Anytime a team with a star-studded roster falls at the hands of a less shiny, non-title contending team, it feels like a direct punch to the gut. Hunched over in pain, you can’t help but think “we should have beaten them” over and over again.
For years, the Brooklyn Nets were the lock to take those shots. But this time, it was Brooklyn wearing the gloves and dealing out the damage rather than taking it. Needless to say, it was good to watch tonight.
The Nets got their first home victory, taking out the newly assembled Los Angeles Clippers by a 100-93 score. Now with ex-Net James Harden aboard, LA should pose a significant threat to the rest of the league, with 32 All-Star berths combined across their starting five to zero for Brooklyn’s walking wounded.
But again, none of that mattered. This was a night for the underdogs. Here’s a few things to gather from it all.
Dinwiddie Needs to Figure it Out
The Spencer Dinwiddie experience tonight was like going to the doctor’s office as a kid. You get pricked, poked, it’s ice cold, and all in all not particularly fun for the first 99% of your visit. But as you’re heading out the door, the receptionist gives you a lollipop for the ride home and all is well.
Tonight, instead of a root beer float flavored Dum Dum, Dinwiddie handed fans a dagger 3-pointer. Was it biggest shot in the game? Yes. But has he also had an awkward, rocky start to the season? Also, yes.
So far this year year Dinwiddie’s averaging 10.8 points per game. Not counting the 2020-21 year where he played only three games after tearing his ACL, that would be his lowest of for a season since his third as a pro. That also represents a 6.5 point drop off from last season.
You expected him to show out tonight of all nights with Simmons out. Din had 19/6/6 on Saturday against Boston when Simmons also sat out while shooting a crisp 57% from the field. But tonight he put up seven points and shot 2-of-8 from the field. Now in five of his seven games this year he’s failed to score more than 10 points. Again, very un-Dinwiddie like. The dagger? Very Dinwiddie like.
It’s a small sample size. Everything is at this point of the season. But anyone who knows Dinwiddie’s game and also watched him this year knows that something’s up.
By my eyes, his ability to get downhill was his best attribute last season. With Brooklyn wielding several shooters out on the wings, the Nets were at their best when Spence created rim pressure to either finish himself our kick out.
With Dorian Finney-Smith, Lonnie Walker IV, Thomas, and others shooting above their weight level right now, the Nets again have the guys to attack offensively that way. At this point in the season they’re the league’ fourth best team in 3-pointers attempted and in percentage.
But for some reason, Dinwiddie has not looked to get downhill as often. I genuinely cannot remember the last time I saw him finish at the rim. The court vision is still there. You see it in spurts and in his 5.3 assists per game, good for the second best on the team right now. But it could be coming easier for him and the team if he got barreling toward the cylinder again.
With Thomas likely out for a few games (we hope) going forward and perhaps an added motivator via a matchup with Kyle Kuzma on the horizon, the script is there for him to turn it up over the next few games. But it all starts with him getting downhill again first.
More Small Wins for Small Ball
The Clippers started tonight’s contest with an Ivica Zubac post-up play — an interesting choice when you have four other Hall-of-Famers starting by his side. But given Brooklyn’s position as a smaller team with no Simmons or Claxton, the move had some merit to it. Zubac backing down Dorian Finney-Smith and muscling the ball over him for two supported said move as well.
The Nets went on to duel with the Clippers for much of the second and third quarters. But as the game went on, you expected LA to exploit that soft spot in Brooklyn’s armor at some point. Every time and undermanned team hangs with a goliath, you expect the latter to go on a game-sealing run at some point. You never know when it will come, but you expect it all the same.
But Zubac never found a way to dominate and the Clippers never went on that run.
Between Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale, the Nets had their best defensive game this year from a “small ball” perspective. Rather than going toe-to-toe with Zubac at the rim, Brooklyn’s defenders did well to get him on the way up, stripping him on the gather time and time again.
It was an impressive chess move as the Nets recognized their disadvantage and then adapted. These plays won’t show up on the stat sheet but resembles as good an “eye test” defensive performance as you’ll see.
Zubac is by no means a super star offensive center in this league. But the Nets went a full 48 without letting him do what big guys have been doing to small guys since this game was ever invented. That’s another subtle victory for this team in it’s small ball format.
This Bench is For Real
I wanted to close this out with a rant about how the it feels like it’s starting to get personal between the Brooklyn Nets and the injury bug. After your star pupil to begin the season goes down — on the heels of three straight seasons derailed by untimely injuries — it’s hard not to feel that way.
But a paragraph will do, at least until next week when Brooklyn inevitably has another player taken from them. Boo!
After Thomas went out tonight, the Brooklyn bench had perhaps its best outing of the season, which is saying something given its heroics against the Miami Heat last week. The Brooklyn bench poured in 45 points, placing themselves as a the league’s seventh best bench scoring team this year.
Lonnie Walker IV led the charge once more. Immediately after Thomas went down he hit three straight triples to keep the Nets afloat. He finished with 21 points — a season high for him he feels certain to break at some point.
Lonnie Walker has 3 threes since Thomas went down, and just hit this *tough* buzzer-beater over Harden: pic.twitter.com/aYNiXNxJQm— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 9, 2023
Trendon Watford added meaningful minutes as well. The ex-Blazer dropped nine points while filling in for Simmons tonight as somewhat of a 6’9” point forward. He could have had a loud two more had his posterizing slam on P.J. Tucker not been waived off the board. After a rough first few possessions of the game, Day’Ron Sharpe also had quiet double-double off the bench, his first.
“We got a lot of dogs on this team,” said Walker told Erik Slater of ClutchPoints postgame. “It’s just that simple. They got a chip on their shoulder, and they got something to prove. A lot of players that are starving. They wanna play and they wanna prove themselves.”
These contributions, paired with hot starts to the season from Finney-Smith and O’Neale, has this team with more depth than we’ve seen in years. Dogs indeed.