Watching the Brooklyn Nets tonight was like watching a ball roll around the rim for 48 minutes, only to slip out on its final turn. Oddly enough, the Nets did not experience too many of those heart-wrenching misses this evening, as their offense rebounded from its brick fest vs the Knicks. However, the pain of a near make, or near win in this scenario, can be felt all around the borough tonight.
It’s as if the game took place in Gotham City, as the Joker gave the guys all dressed in black trouble all night. The reigning Finals MVP finished with 31 points on 17 shots. He also grabbed 13 boards, seven assists, three steals, and two blocks. Gangster.
Jamal Murray dropped a season-high 32 points and also punched above his weight with some solid defense. Their two headed monster proved too deadly for Brooklyn’s balanced attack, which included seven guys reaching double figures.
A battle of losing streaks now lies on the horizon, as the Nets, the losers of five straight, will host the Detroit Pistons, the losers of 25 straight tomorrow evening. But before we move onto that clash of the titans, here what we learned from another Denver debacle.
The Day’Ron Sharpe Leap is Official
While I’m proud to say I’ve held onto some Day’Ron Sharpe stock for a few years now, after tonight, I’m prepared to go all in. Building on an already impressive campaign this year that quickly put to bed anyone worrying that it’d be another year of bussing him back and forth from Long Island, Sharpe got after it in multiple facets of the game.
The third year big finished with 13 points while shooting 5-8 from the field. He also grabbed 10 boards, reaching double digits in that department for the ninth time this year after doing it just five times last season. He too came away with a pair of blocked shots, showing off his underrated athleticism being the guy behind Nic Claxton in the pecking order
Great block from Day'Ron Sharpe, recovering to the paint after Jamal didn't even reject his man's screen: pic.twitter.com/ikH1QRtjNC— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 23, 2023
A number his boards came on second efforts as well. Day Day came with some fight at the defensive end which the Nets had been notably lacking over the course of their losing streak. He did not just look like a capable backup center, he looked like someone capable of starting at the position one day in the future.
His fixation with blocking shots beyond his reach and taking himself out of rebounding position continues to make me want to pull my hair out. There was a bit of that tonight, but I’m pleased to say I left Barclays tonight without any damage to scalp as his positives outweighed that.
Jokic still went off, outscoring everyone on the Nets, but if we’ve learned anything over the past year, such forces are near-unstoppable. Sharpe still came through with some solid sequences against him in getting his 13 points. While Jokic on the contrary represents something of a revolving door at that end, a double digit point tally while dealing with the overall assignment of him remains an achievement.
With each game, he’s looking more and more like the next Brooklyn center developing into a fine NBA product, following in the footsteps of Brook Lopez, Jarrett Allen, and now Claxton. The project isn’t complete, but it looked its closest to that tonight than at perhaps any other point in his career.
Another Dinwiddie Disappearance
There’s no question that Spencer Dinwiddie is the driver for Brooklyn’s offense. However, he puts the team on cruise control some nights. This was unfortunately one of those night.
Dinwiddie finished with six points on only four shots. He played 33 minutes and had his fingerprints all over of the ball, but never seemed to look for his shot. We’ve seen Spence lean heavily into his facilitator role at the sacrifice of his scoring before, but tonight we got didn’t get either, as he finished with three assists. That’s tied for his second fewest in a game all year.
The Nets looked like they planned to get Mikal Bridges more looks as the handler in pick and roll sets, surely in an attempt to help him shake off his rough outing vs the Knicks. That likely played some role in Dinwiddie’s dud tonight, but to act like he didn’t have his chances to make something happen outside of that would be naive. We know his shot-making ability, he offered a reminder in the clutch yet again tonight.
Can anyone do nothing for nearly an entire game then hit shots like this better than Spencer Dinwiddie? pic.twitter.com/QzpHuJRw7l— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) December 23, 2023
With Cam Thomas experiencing an uncharacteristically inefficient night shooting the ball, tonight’s game represented an ideal scenario for him to take over. Jacque Vaughn cannot control his players like a puppet master, but giving him some sort of motivation to grab ahold of this game needed to happen and never did.
Hustle is Infectious
Brooklyn looked lifeless during the opening quarter’s first half, that is until Mikal Bridges poked away a steal, sprinted out of bound to throw the ball across the court into Sharpe’s hands, and then darted back onto the court to catch the ball for a layup.
Although he avoided the bumps and bruises that came with “the Dive,” it still was a Derek Jeter-esq give and go type of play that pumped some life into the Nets. From that point on, deflections, loose ball recoveries, activity on the glass, and pressure on ball handlers became commonalities.
Quite the hustle sequence from Mikal Bridges and Day'Ron Sharpe. pic.twitter.com/coD7wVWsCD— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) December 23, 2023
The Nets ended up forcing Denver into only six turnovers, but anyone who watched the game could see their focus on disrupting the often harmonious Denver offense. They poked and pried at the Nuggets almost the entire game. It wasn’t enough for a win, but resembled a stark comparison to what we’ve seen from the team during their past two games.
The Nets have spoken about their ability to play off each other’s energy already this year. Lonnie Walker IV specifically noted how Dennis Smith Jr.’s activity often inspires everyone else to take their game to another level. It’s no coincidence that he also returned to the lineup tonight after missing seven straight games with a sore back.
“You definitely felt their presence when that group started to sub and come in and really put their imprint on the game,” said Jacque Vaughn of Smith Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith postgame. “I thought their physicality, their ability to have deflections, and our activity level was pretty high when those guys checked in.”
The Nets seem like a squad that feeds off each other more than other NBA teams from what I’ve witnessed. This makes keeping energy guys like Smith Jr. healthy a must for this team. Add that to the growing collection of “yeah, he’s way more important than I realized” takes on the journeyman point guard.