The Brooklyn Nets never woke up last night — and while they slept — Scary Terry burdened them with endless nightmares.
The Charlotte Hornets gave Brooklyn their first “bad loss” of the season, taking them down by a 129-128 final score. The Nets looked slow, dazed, and less animated than we’re accustomed to seeing them. All game you expected them to snap out of it, but that moment never arrived.
Terry Rozier did. He finished with 37 points while shooting 7-of-9 from beyond the arc. Yes, those are 3-point attempts, not free throws.
Rozier did clank his final shot and a few seconds later Cameron Johnson found himself open for three with the ball in his hands. However, his potential game-winner found only iron as well.
Against one of the league’s worst teams, without two of its starters, and at home — that’s a loss that will force the team to look themselves in the mirror. If any fans are brave enough to do the same, you’ll find our takeaways from this stinger below.
Cam Thomas Knows No Rust
White vinegar, a bottle of WD-40, or a patch of steel wool — you won’t find any of it in Cam Thomas’ apartment. Once again, the born bucket-getter from LSU proved that he simply does not rust.
Even after missing eight straight games, the most ever in his career due to injury, Thomas came out firing as if his ankle injury and subsequent time out never occurred. He his first two shots off the bench, both of which were self created, pretty, high-arching fadeaways.
Brooklyn’s wet paper towel defense, which I’ll get into next, put a damper on what was an incredibly encouraging first half back for him. With 12 minutes logged at the break, Thomas led the team with 17 points while shooting a crisp 7-12 from the field and with zero turnovers.
“I though overall he looked good,” said Vaughn postgame. “Looked good hitting his first shot that he took, very confident. Good to have him back out there, another weapon for us and now we got to put it all together.”
The second half sequel was on par with its predecessor. Thomas added 11 more to finish with a team-high 26 for the night while shooting 11-21 from the field. Without a minutes restriction, its feels safe to say he could have hit 30 for what would have been a fifth time this year.
Cam Thomas: Professional Scorer pic.twitter.com/ajELNXVCEI— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) December 1, 2023
It’s not the first time Thomas has shown an ability to cook without much time to get loose. The fact that he’d sit with multiple DNPs or mere 5-minute outings in between his 40+ point outbursts last year is arguably what made them so notable.
When asked about his ability to heat up in an instant, Thomas still took the humble rout and praised the Nets staff.
“Credit to the performance staff helping me to get right,” said Thomas postgame. “You know, helping me stay ready, stay in good shape to come out here and play the way I did. So you know, credit to them.”
What was that Defense...and Can I Even Call it That?
The Hornets stumbled into this game as the sixth-worst team in offensive rating and without their conductor in LaMelo Ball. But rather than going off the rails, it was full speed ahead.
Charlotte blitzed Brooklyn in the first half, putting up 73 points. Riding Rozier, they had an answer for every Nets bucket down the stretch too. The Hornets finished the game with 51/58/100 splits. Their clip from deep is a +23% increase from their mark coming into the game.
Charlotte hitting tough buckets was a key part of that equation, but Brooklyn’s porous defense put them in this hole as well. The Nets over-helped or closed out too aggressively on one too many occasions.
It’s a admirable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. Their rotations looked a step slower than usual after that, and from there, it became shooting practice for the Hornets.
“For us to give up 70 points in the first half, some of those threes they made, they made them because they were comfortable,” said Jacque Vaughn postgame. “When you give an NBA guy a little comfort who haven’t shots historically then the confidence builds and you’re able to see the ball go through the hole. We paid for that tonight.”
Brooklyn has also drawn significant praise for their improvements in the rebounding department this year, patching up a hole that consistently sank their ship year after year. But tonight, they did not do enough steer clear of any icebergs.
Too many balls hit the court before Net defenders arrived as Charlotte finished with 13 offensive boards. However, a few of them were worse than others. I specifically recall one point in the third quarter where Johnson expected someone else to pick up the ball in the back court and just left it on the hardwood for the Hornets to scoop up. These miscues led to 18 second chance points for Charlotte.
“For us to give that up it’s just unacceptable for this group,” Vaughn said. “We did not have the standard that we typically have especially in that first half.”
The Nets still won the rebounding battle and even scored more second chance points than the Hornets tonight. But Charlotte’s often came during the game’s most dire moments. All-in-all, tonight’s just another example of this Nets defense not being what I or anyone else thought it would be.
Guard Rotation Getting Complicated
As Brooklyn’s own conductor over the past three weeks, arguably no other Net has been more valuable to the team in the month of November than Spencer Dinwiddie. Tonight, he was nowhere to be found.
Dinwiddie finished with nine points while shooting 3-of-9 from the field. He also dished out eight assists and hit a big turn around bank-shot to keep the Nets in striking distance down the stretch, but other than that, it was a forgetful performance.
Although Dinwiddie played only four minutes fewer tonight than he did two days ago vs Toronto, Cam Thomas coming back was the only thing that changed tonight. I cannot help but make that connection and look at his re-entry to the rotation as the culprit for what threw Spence off.
“I’ll always continue to have conversations with guys to reinforce where they are, what their minutes look like,” said Vaughn pregame when asked about getting Thomas back into the fold. “It will affect dudes who have been playing, that’s just the way it is. That’s what we signed up for in team basketball. And so some guys minutes will be affected, some of their shots will be affected, but if you come into the game with the ultimate goal of winning the game and being part of a team, then you understand that.”
With Ben Simmons on the way back — Vaughn said he’d update us on this Saturday — and Dennis Smith Jr. returning too, things could become complicated for Brooklyn’s ball handlers. Don’t forget about Lonnie Walker IV either, who continues to have one of the best off-the-bench starts in team history.
Carrying multiple guards capable of uplifting the team is good problem to have, but a head scratcher nonetheless. I’m wishing good luck to Jacque Vaughn going forward if this guard rotation is on its way to becoming the puzzle I think it is.