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Brooklyn Nets make one too many mistakes, fall to Golden State Warriors 124-120

The Nets came achingly close to overcoming a slow start in Golden State, led by an explosive performance by Cam Thomas. Steph Curry, though, was having none of it.

Brooklyn Nets v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

“If you look at the schedule, obviously this’d probably be a scheduling loss, right? So for all intents and purposes, we’re kind of 1-and-1 on the trip right now. Now, we go into Golden State and Utah and try to get two wins.”

That was Spencer Dinwiddie not excusing, but rationalizing the Brooklyn Nets’ loss to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night, the second night of a back-to-back. The Nets, like many other challengers who have faced the same scheduling nonsense, ran out of gas quickly. They not only lost to the (obviously deserving) Nuggets, but didn’t even make it to the fourth quarter.

So, as Dinwiddie noted, they’d get two chances to redeem themselves before heading back home, starting with a contest against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night. The Warriors, plunged into turmoil by the flailing limbs of Draymond Green and underperforming veterans, were sure to have no sympathy for the well-traveled Nets.

The Warriors opened and closed the game on a tear from three, and Steph Curry turned in a fiery performance complete with long-range shots and celebrations that would make anybody else’s career-highlight reel. They did not take the Nets lightly. However, Golden State did turn the basketball over tons, and gave their guests an opportunity to steal a win, because that’s what they do.

The Nets, though, couldn’t take advantage, as a missed layup in the game’s final seconds was the straw that broke Brooklyn’s back.

Final Score: Golden State Warriors 124, Brooklyn Nets 120.

Things were going well for Brooklyn in Saturday’s first half when Cam Thomas shot the rock. He raced out to 24 points on 8-f-11 shooting, and made all kinds of looks, not just his tough mid-range jumpers but pull-up threes and burly takes to the basket:

Thomas had a simple explanation for his hot start: “My rhythm is coming back. I’m getting to where I want to be.”

Thomas didn’t have a perfect first half, turning the ball over three times and getting back-cut on defense, but Brooklyn had nobody else to turn to. When he wasn’t firing, the Nets were getting their skull kicked in by a rejuvenated Warriors team that has sent Andrew Wiggins to the bench in favor of rookie Brandin Podziemski and replaced Green with Jonathan Kuminga.

Spencer Dinwiddie and Cam Johnson each scored seven points in the first half on middling efficiency while Mikal Bridges limped to a 1-6 start from the field, but offense only covered half of Brooklyn’s problems.

The Warriors shot 10-of-17 from three in the game’s first 24 minutes, and while Steph Curry and co. converted some characteristically tough looks...

...they were afforded too many opportunities. The Nets allowed nine offensive rebounds in, including three to Dario Šarić off the bench. Golden State’s backup center initiated the Dubs’ first push to separate late in the first quarter, where he nailed a couple threes and did work inside.

Chris Paul, another member of the Warriors’ best bench unit in some time, led the charge in the second quarter. He sprayed the ball all over the court and finished the first half with eight assists and a whopping +15 plus-minus. Brooklyn was thinner than usual thanks to Dorian Finney-Smith being a late scratch with left knee soreness, and the continued absences of Ben Simmons, Lonnie Walker IV, and Dennis Smith Jr. Jacque Vaughn once again turned to rookie Jalen Wilson in the first half, but Brooklyn’s bench couldn’t save them this time.

The Warriors led 70-54 at halftime behind 3-point shooting and strong bench play, but the Nets had signs of life. They had forced eight turnovers, but fell apart in transition, turning 5-on-4 opportunities into turnovers of their own:

Yet, if history continued, Golden State would let the Nets back into this game. They entered Saturday with the 20th-best second-half net rating, 23rd in fourth quarters. Their offensive sloppiness problems and limited size hasn’t improved deep in games, quite the opposite.

And on Saturday night, the Nets were the beneficiaries of Golden State’s same old problems. Brooklyn continued to force turnovers; only this time, they converted their transition opportunities. Better yet, the shooting splits started to even out. All five Nets starters would finish in double-digits, and all except Claxton would hit multiple three-pointers. Swishes and smart decisions changed the tenor of Brooklyn’s offense, and allowed them to chip away in the third quarter:

Brooklyn’s back-court led the charge. Dinwiddie scored a modest 16 points on 16 shots, but dished out 14 assists on the night. Once again, he was a rock, as his decision-making stabilized the Nets after a rough start.

He wasn’t the star of the show, though. That was still Cam Thomas, who scored 41 points in his first truly explosive outing since returning from an ankle sprain three weeks ago. Saturday night was his night, and the man who kept his team afloat in the first half continued to score the rock in the second:

“Cam continues to step up to different challenges. Tonight we needed him to score,” said Vaughn. “His ability to break down defenses is pretty elite, and then he’s continuing to grow in different areas, e’s seeing different defenses and he’s learning from it. He’s growing as a player.”

In the fourth quarter, Mikal Bridges hit a 3-pointer to give the Nets a 99-97 lead, their first since it was 17-16. He and Thomas combined to lead the Nets to victory in a critical juncture: the early fourth quarter.

See, that’s Steph Curry’s designated resting period before he returns to salt the game away for the Warriors. Golden State’s 10-14 record entering action tells us that Curry hasn’t always done that this season, but certainly, the Nets wouldn’t be foolish enough to bet against him on Saturday.

They weren’t, turning to a switch-heavy defense down the stretch, Vaughn’s break-in-case-of-emergency strategy that leaves his team light on the glass, but better prepared to get the initial stop. Curry started to heat up even then, and Vaughn started double-teaming him.

It didn’t matter. Steph Curry can torch any type of defense, and reminded us all of that on Saturday night to the tune of 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting. He even missed some wide-open layups that robbed him of 40. In any case, Curry went full psycho-killer down the stretch, looking off open teammates to pull from three. Those teammates are sure glad he did:

“It’s who he is,” said Bridges of the first-ball Hall-of-Famer. “He’s gonna be an all-time great. It’s tough when you’re playing against him, it’s great when you’re watching it from TV.”

Klay Thompson joined his fellow Splash Bro to complete to vintage performance, putting up 24 points on four 3-pointers, which looked like they would bury Brooklyn’s comeback efforts.

But the Nets continued to fight. Nic Claxton played his best game of the West Coast swing to finish with 19-and-12, as well as four blocks, and he tossed in this unbelievable and-one to cut the lead to a possession:

That’s where it stayed down to the deciding moments, as the Nets, trailing 122-120, inbounded the ball to Mikal Bridges — not Thomas — where he had the opportunity to work with a cleared out side. To that point, Bridges had overcome his slow start to hit some big shots in the second half, sitting at 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting.

He made a decisive move, getting right to the cup with his right hand, but he’d miss his 17th shot of the night, smoking the game-tying layup from which the Nets wouldn’t recover:

Mikal Bridges had a simple view of that deciding play: “I just missed it, just missed a layup. Coach drew up a play for me to iso at the top, I just missed it.”

That missed layup was the final paper-cut that killed the Nets. It followed their 14 turnovers, the 13 offensive boards they allowed, the missed opportunities in transition and, through a lesser fault of their own, the Warriors catching fire late to finish 17-of-32 (53.1%) from three.

Said Bridges: “We just got to start off the game better, keep us in the game in the beginning, second quarter, so it won’t have to be like that in the third, fourth where we got to battle.

Did the Nets deserve to win this game? Eh. Would’ve been real nice if they did, though.

Milestone Watch

Cam Thomas scored 40 again despite the loss, so who else would lead off Saturday’s milestones?

  • Thomas has now scored 40+ points six times before his 23rd birthday, passing Bernard King for the most such games in Nets history. All other players combined have totaled six.
  • Thomas broke a tie with King and teammate Mikal Bridges with his fifth 40-ball to move into fifth place all-time in Nets NBA history. He trails, in order, Vince Carter, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and John Williamson.
  • Thomas’ 24-point first half was the third time he’s scored that many points in a half this season. He matched it on Opening Night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and scored 25 in the second half against the Milwaukee Bucks.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie’s 16 points and 14 dimes were good for his third double-double of the season, while Nic Claxton posted his team-high fifth of the year with 19 points and 14 boards.

Injury Update

As mentioned, Dorian Finney-Smith was a late scratch with left knee soreness after being listed as PROBABLE on the original injury report. So late, in fact, that Jacque Vaughn said “all signs” pointed to Finney-Smith being able to play in his pregame comments, per Brian Lewis of the NY Post, before he was proven wrong.

Finney-Smith was listed as QUESTIONABLE in Denver with the same ailment before ultimately playing, so the extent of this soreness remains to be seen. With the Nets already down Lonnie Walker IV and Dennis Smith Jr., there’s no such thing as a minor injury to one of their best reserves remaining.

The Nets are also down Ben Simmons, as he’s remained back in Brooklyn to recover from a nerve impingement in his lower left back. Thursday’s game was the two-week point at which the Nets said there’d be more clarity on Simmons’ status after the last update. Well, that turned out not to be the case, per Lewis:

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