At the end of a tough, rainy Monday, the Brooklyn Nets served their fans a pipping hot bowl of untreated waste water last night, losing to the Utah Jazz by a 125-108 score.
The lottery-bound Jazz made the Nets look like a G-League team, beating them in almost every metric possible. It’s a “bad loss” that rivals their earlier debacle vs the LaMelo Ball-less Charlotte Hornets. That game, like tonight, featured some defense that couldn’t stop Hasbulla from scoring on a 50-foot hoop.
Cam Thomas did come through with an efficient 32 points on 23 points. He finished at all three levels despite some physical defense from the Jazz. However, Brooklyn’s overall efforts, or lack their of, made it difficult to enjoy.
Breaking this one down will be like lifting up a rock in the woods and seeing all the muck under it, but if you’re ready to dredge through the filth one more time before we put this one to rest, look no further.
Physicality is this Team’s Biggest Issue
It’s been close between this and the team’s unwillingness to force turnovers, but after last night, Brooklyn’s lacking physicality took a commanding lead in the race for the team’s most glaring issue.
The Nets lost almost every 50/50 ball last night on the glass. Frankly, they even lost a large percentage of 70/30 balls, where they should have secured the rock based on how it fell off the rim, but Utah simply outmuscled them for it.
Another possession with Brooklyn getting outworked on the defensive glass. That's the weakness of this starting lineup.— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) December 19, 2023
Dinwiddie - Thomas - Bridges - Johnson is lacking size and physicality on the boards. https://t.co/BxTHDik8Ty pic.twitter.com/QMtsZifwjW
As a result, Brooklyn lost on the boards by a 51-36 tally, culminating in their third worst rebounding differential for the season thus far. The Jazz also did well to finish off a number of those boards when they came at the offensive end. That, or just bullying inside, worked for them all night long, as they won in the paint as well by a 54-36 margin.
The Nets tried their own hand at scoring inside early, but after a first quarter of seeing their shots blocked and refs swallow their whistles after contact, they played scared with exception to Thomas and occasionally Nic Claxton.
It doesn’t stop there, as Brooklyn’s point of attack defense looked equally weak, as nobody stepped up to check Utah’s ball handlers. Collin Sexton and Talen Horton-Tucker both finished with 27 points each. Typing that out felt like a crime, let alone watching it unfold on a basketball court.
There’s just zero fortitude behind this Nets defense we expected to be the team’s backbone this yea and much of it comes down to their lacking physicality.
To call that aforementioned race fair, it’s also contributed to them forcing the fewest turnovers of any team in the league this year. It’s not just a problem, it’s a black hole that’ll suck the team out of playoff position if not addressed.
Little Things Adding up on Defense Too
Contesting shots remains the name of the game at the defensive end. If you Google “basketball defense,” someone defending a shot will likely come up first. However, if you fail to fill in the gaps around bothering shots you can still get burned. The Nets know this well, waking up covered with singe marks today.
If you watch the game footage back, you’ll see Brooklyn did modestly well to bother Utah’s shooters during standard, half court sets. They even came up with eight blocked shots. Where Utah killed Brooklyn, was on second chance opportunities and in transition.
The Nets had perhaps its worst “hustle” night of the year. The Jazz finished with 30 fast break points to Brooklyn’s ten. That total for Utah nearly doubles their average for the season, illustrating an open door policy for the Nets at the turn of any possession.
From a statistical standpoint, the second chance points did not look as glaring in the box score. The Nets finished just one point behind the Jazz in that department.
But it was more so the ease at which Utah scored on their second chances that took the wind out of Brooklyn’s sails. You’ll find no better example of what I’m talking about than when Mikal Bridges forced a tough Collin Sexton miss, but Simone Fontecchi soared in for a board and then kicked it back out to Sexton for what looked like a warmup layup past Royce O’Neale, Cameron Johnson, and Day’Ron Sharpe.
What a save by Simone Fontecchio to get Sexton a wide-open bucket pic.twitter.com/fCUHHb1erx— Jazz Lead (@JazzLead) December 19, 2023
You can chalk up some of this lacking hustle to the Nets playing their fifth straight game on the road. But after the team put out a similar effort vs the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, there’s no excuse for this.
Mikal and Thomas Two-Man Game
From the depths of Brooklyn’s darkest loss of the year, I’m determined to scratch and claw my way to a positive. Naturally, it’s going to come in relation to the only guy who showed up tonight in Cam Thomas.
However, Mikal Bridges, who puttered his way to a 13-point game where he shot 4-of-16 from the field, still started to show off some chemistry with Thomas which resembles something to build on.
The two really got after it in the second quarter, either screening for each other and then attacking the defense downhill or just playing off the space created by the other’s presence on the floor. They brought a two-man game to life we normally only see Bridges feature with his twin in Cameron Johnson.
Although Bridges came through with a dud last night, we’ve seen him success playing of other players before, such as Johnson. There’s been nice moments with him and Claxton this year as well.
But Thomas has either had to or chosen to be a one-man wrecking crew at times this year. For that reason, this development is more so a positive on his end rather than Bridges’, even with Mikal again not playing anywhere close to his normal standard last night.