The Detroit Pistons are in a miserable, miserable spot. Not only did they enter the Barclays Center on Saturday night one loss shy of tying the all-time record for consecutive L’s, but they’re sure to get each team’s best shot.
Dorian Finney-Smith did deny that the Brooklyn Nets would feel an added pressure to defeat the worst team in the league: “Nah. We trying to get off this losing streak as well, so ain’t no pressure. We just want to win.”
Finney-Smith’s political answer aside, no NBA team wants to be known as the squad that finally, mercifully let Detroit get off the schneid. It may be the season of giving, but the Nets weren’t going to be that generous to their guests on Saturday night.
Detroit Head Coach Monty Williams greeted his former steeds in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, and the Nets aired a lovely tribute video for the return of Joe Harris, but make no mistake: The Nets needed a win on Saturday night in the worst way. Forget the five-game losing streak, forget that Saturday’s game fell on the second night of a back-to-back. You can’t be losing to these Pistons, man. Nobody else does.
The Nets avoided such a fate on Saturday night, withstanding some genuinely well-played stretches of Detroit basketball. Brooklyn simply kept their heads down, though, waiting for the Pistons to make their inevitable mistakes, which included turning the ball over and a wafer-thin interior defense. Ultimately, the Nets had little to sweat over, and put an end to their five-game losing streak.
Final Score: Brooklyn Nets 126, Detroit Pistons 115.
After Friday night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, Mikal Bridges turned his criticism inward: “I was talking to [Cam Thomas], it’s just frustrating, personally, because I feel like me and Cam, if we both make shots, we’d be a tough team to beat. Because you have to start bringing everybody up then we’ll make the right play and find guys and we have guys who can score.”
Bridges’ words proved prophetic, as he and Thomas each had strong offensive starts for the first time in some time.
The 27-year old unofficially ended his brutal slump on Friday with a performance that was merely alright instead of bad. Saturday, though, brought an early Christmas gift to Bridges and his fans: a true return to form. It didn’t take long for him to get going, scoring 13 points in a first quarter that featured all types of buckets. He cut off-the-ball for layups, he drove into pull-up jumpers, and he hit a spot-up three, courtesy of Cam Thomas:
Nice to see Cam Thomas up to three assists already: pic.twitter.com/hho2QH9Vg7— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 24, 2023
It was the exact start Bridges envisioned to his night, not only pouring in buckets but finally playing well at the same time as Thomas. It wasn’t one of those beginnings for Brooklyn’s leading-scorer. Understated, even. But Thomas was solid, scoring six points and dishing three assists on just three shots, refraining from doing too much, but doing what he did well.
Said Bridges: “I just know it’s gonna be tough, offensively, to guard us if we both got it going. Because if they start blitzing and trapping, you got Clax rolling with Spence and Cam [Johnson], and then when Doe and everybody subs in, we have guys that can hoop...I just know it’d be tough if we’re scoring on offense pretty well and efficiently, we’d be tough to beat.”
As a bonus, Spencer Dinwiddie had it going after his most passive game of the season in which he took just four shots. Dinwiddie ran pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll down the stretch of the first quarter, leading to open shots at first for his teammates, but then for himself:
Thankfully Spencer Dinwiddie looks a lot less passive tonight. Just ran three straight PnRs, dropped two assists and this pu3: pic.twitter.com/135jJyaMF1— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 24, 2023
The 6-0 lead that Detroit jumped out to quickly became ancient history, as did the early consternation of a Barclays Center crowd dreading the worst. The Nets lead 32-21 after a dozen, the beneficiaries of six Pistons turnovers and a whopping 18 points in the paint. As expected, the visitors were not putting up much resistance on either end.
However, that changed once the second quarter began. The bench-heavy lineup that kept Brooklyn afloat on Friday night instead did the same for their opponent. Detroit’s second unit found some life, and marched to the town for free-throw after free-throw, ending up with 29 attempts on the night.
Explained Jacque Vaughn: “They have a very physical and aggressive team, so I think they will bring the fight to us in those situations. And when you get out of position, sometimes you reach, you overreact and you put yourself in a position to foul.”
More surprisingly, the worst outside shooting team in recent NBA history caught a heater from deep. The Pistons shot 5-of-11 from deep in the second quarter, led by familiar face Bojan Bogdanović and, surprisingly, 33.8% outside shooter Isaiah Stewart. The fiery big man hit three straight triples from the top of the key just before halftime, picking-and-popping like a pro.
His marksmanship might have made a more sizable dent in the hosts’ lead, but the Pistons continued to forgo defense throughout the first half. Bridges kept hooping, but started to take over with his passing, rather than scoring. He tallied five assists in the second quarter, and headed into the break with an already-strong 19/2/5 line on 7-for-11 shooting:
Is this Mikal's first possession a PnR roll-man all season? Either way, it ends with a kick-out to DFS for three: pic.twitter.com/PSYbdNu0sz— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 24, 2023
The Pistons were competing, for sure, but Nets PR was still kind enough to let us know that Brooklyn was winning every battle there was to win heading into halftime, where they led 65-56.
Bridges was the Nets’ only double-digit scorer at the break, but like Friday, the home team’s offense was as egalitarian as it gets. All ten players who hit the floor scored, even Jalen Wilson, who dropped in a floater during his four minutes of run. (The rook played over Trendon Watford. Something or nothing?)
In the third quarter, the Pistons continued to shoot the lights out, putting a legitimate scare into the Nets. Cade Cunningham finished the night 9-of-20 from the floor for 22 points, and perhaps if he had hit a couple more pull-up twos, Detroit would have taken the lead in the third.
Jaden Ivey got to the paint repeatedly, drawing free-throws or dropping dimes on his way to a team-high 23 points and 7 assists, a few of them to Stewart, who finished with 20 points. Throw in Bogey’s 19 points and a smaller Pistons starting group — the one that fans had been begging for — played some of their best basketball of the season:
Sometimes, the fans are right. Detroit cut Brooklyn’s lead to 77-75, and Cunningham hoisted a potential go-ahead 3-pointer. It clanked off the front rim, though, and it sparked the Nets to a 21-7 run to close the quarter. The Pistons had hung around, but that’s all they were going to do on Saturday night.
“You know, they went on that run and they were hitting shots, and kind of tough ones too,” said Johnson. “And so, you gotta be able to weather those storms like I said. You gotta be able to weather the storms and be able to fight back and you know, the bench came in and did a fantastic job of giving that buffer.”
Detroit’s reserves, led by Kevin Knox, Marvin Bagley, and Alec Burks, entered the game to get destroyed. Brooklyn’s reserves did their thing once again, erasing a slow start to take full advantage of the opportunities their inferior opponent afforded them:
Pistons lose floor balance, DFS leaks out after contesting a shot for an easy dunk: pic.twitter.com/oa3HRVP2O0— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 24, 2023
The DFS-Royce O’Neale wing duo was reliable, per usual, shooting 3-of-5 from distance to combine for 15 points, 12 boards, and six assists.
Said Johnson: “I think that stretch in the third quarter was big, you know? Those two man, they show up every day, play hard and do their job. You know, just two dependendable dudes right there.”
O’Neale dropped five dimes, and managed to throw this beautiful lob to Dennis Smith Jr., the backup guard playing his second game after returning from injury:
DSJ didn’t have the same impact as he did vs Denver, but his five points and three assists boosted his squad once again as the only true ball-handler off the bench. Day’Ron Sharpe, similarly, didn’t put up crazy numbers, but shooting 5-of-6 to score 11 points was enough to thoroughly overmatch Bagley in their battle underneath.
Jacque Vaughn praised his bench in postgame: “It’s the way our team is built: to have depth and versatility. And when we’re missing that depth and versatility, it puts a strain on the group. And tonight, minutes across the board, you look at our minutes across the board in both of those two games — pretty good, which I think gave us a chance on the back to back with the physical team that we played yesterday to have enough juice.”
While Bridges slowed down just a tad, still finishing with a stacked 29/6/7 stat-line on 9-of-17 shooting, the Cams were the true closers. Johnson, playing against his former head coach, scored an efficient 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, heating up after halftime to quell any momentum the Pistons tried to build in the fourth quarter, where they halved the lead from 20 to 10.
Thomas did his part too, finishing with 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting. It was a relatively quiet, yet consistent game for the starting guard. He didn’t tally an assist after the first quarter (putting up three early,) but took plenty of good shots while getting to cook just a tad. His most memorable bucket was this four-point play over Stewart:
The Nets hardly broke a sweat after the first quarter, nearly leading wire-to-wire. Maybe they should have been more scared when their lead fell to just one possession in the third quarter, but hey, it’s the Pistons. Brooklyn took care of their business, even on a back-to-back, simply buckling down and trusting the depth that’s won them many games this season.
“It’s the way our team is built: to have depth and versatility,” said Jacque Vaughn. “And when we’re missing that depth and versatility, it puts a strain on the group. And tonight, minutes across the board, you look at our minutes across the board in both of those two games — pretty good, which I think gave us a chance on the back to back with the physical team that we played yesterday to have enough juice.”
Dinwiddie and Nic Claxton embodied the definition of handling business. Neither was the star of the win, but each did their jobs. Dinwiddie took a backseat when needed, but every possession he controlled turned out to be fruitful, scoring 14 with seven assists and just one turnover.
Claxton didn’t notch another double-double, but his 11/7/2/2/2 performance was more than enough for Brooklyn to get the job done. He sneakily raised his free-throw percentage on the season to 63.8 as well, with a 3-of-4 performance on the stripe.
Four of Detroit’s five starters scored at least 19 points, and their new, spaced out starting lineup did its job offensively. They just couldn’t get stops, no matter who they threw on the floor, and Brooklyn knew it. Not only did the Nets shoot 41.7% from deep, but they got to the line a season-high 32 times.
Their relentless attacks to the paint prevented Detroit from sustaining any good vibes. The Pistons, of course, contributed to their own demise by turning it over 13 times and allowing 22 Brooklyn points off them.
“Defensively, I thought we might have even turned ‘em over more than  times,” said Johnson. “We had guys doing a good job of being in lanes and, you know, crowding the paint and making passes difficult. Scoring in transition, scoring off turnovers, those are all just buckets that you want to feel, you know, money that you want to get. And today we did that, and it helped us.
The Nets handled business, accomplishing their own goals but also allowing the Pistons to be consumed by their unmistakable 25-straight-loss stench at the end of the third quarter. Well, make it a record-tying 26. Thank goodness.
Are we counting Detroit’s 26th straight loss as a milestone? Regardless, we do have some more...traditional accomplishments.
- Cam Thomas has now converted a four-point play in each of Brooklyn’s last two games, the first two four-point plays of the season for any Net.
- The Nets dropped 32 assists on Saturday night, and have now handed out 30+ assists in each of their last two games. That’s the first time since the very start of the season that Brooklyn has dished out 30+ assists in consecutive games, bringing their total to seven such games this season.
- As they did on Friday night, Brooklyn once again saw seven players reach double-digits, tying a season-high. It’s the third time this season that seven Nets have scored 10+ in a game.
- Mikal Bridges tallied his sixth game this season with 20+ points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus assists, the last of which tied his career-high as a Net. He registered six 20/5/5 games in his first five seasons combined.
A Night of Reunions
It wasn’t quite the Brooklyn Nets’ visit to the Valley of the Sun, but Nets-Pistons still featured plenty of embraces between familiar faces. Bojan Bogdanović returned to Brooklyn, but his backup was actually the center of attention. We covered Joe Harris’ return to the Barclays Center pregame, where Jacque Vaughn spoke about his relationship with the shooting guard, which lasted the entirety of Harris’ seven-year Nets tenure.
Joe E. Buckets was Detroit’s first substitution off the bench, where he received a nice applause...
Some healthy applause for Joe Harris as he checks in: pic.twitter.com/1rswCnXupr— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 24, 2023
...as well as the expected tribute video:
Forever a part of the Nets family.— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) December 24, 2023
Welcome back, Joe pic.twitter.com/5wSOGCtydu
During pregame, Harris said hello to many of his ex-coworkers, including Mikal Bridges:
Joe Harris catching up with Mikal Bridges and Nets brass. pic.twitter.com/3UYafQH2Qy— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) December 23, 2023
While not the emotional return to his former home in Phoenix, Bridges — along with Cam Johnson — did have one person to greet: his former head coach in Monty Williams. Williams has been at the center of some well-deserved criticism during the Pistons’ epic losing streak, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have time to reflect on his relationship with the Twins in pregame:
“It’s well-documented how I feel about those two guys. They were with me from pretty much day one when I got to Phoenix. Mikal was my first conversation with a player, Cam was I think my first workout...I still text and talk to those guys,” said Williams.
“They both have come back to Phoenix and they run into my family and my family will send me a picture of them, one of Cam or Mikal. We’ll be tied at the hip for a long, long time. They’re family. I always wanna see those guys do well, except tonight.”
The NBA, by far the smallest of North America’s four major sports leagues, is quite the fraternity. Saturday night was just another reminder of its intimacy.
Yes, again. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, as the Nets now face the precious opportunity to hand Detroit their record-setting 27th loss in a row. Or, more accurately, the immense pressure of not being the team to blow it.
Tip-off from Detroit is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, December 26, giving the Nets an extra day of rest of the first time in two weeks.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 126, Detroit Pistons - NBA
- Game Highlights: Brooklyn Nets 126, Detroit Pistons (Video) - NBA
- Cam Thomas talks Nets’ win (Video) - YES Network
- Meghan Triplett talks with Bill Melchionni (Video) - YES Network
- Vaughn on Nets’ win vs. Pistons (Video) - YES Network
- Joe Harris on returning to Barclays Center (Video) - Meghan Triplett - YES Network
- Nets snap five-game skid by handing Pistons record-tying 26th consecutive loss - Mark W. Sanchez - New York Post
- Nets’ Mikal Bridges feels for his ex-coach Monty Williams as Pistons lose record-tying 26th straight game - Mark W. Sanchez - New York Post
- Joe Harris makes emotional Brooklyn return to face Nets: ‘Special relationships’ - Mark W. Sanchez - New York Post
- Nets Notebook: Jacque Vaughn wants team to approach upcoming games vs. lowly Pistons with ‘appropriate fear’ ($) - Fiifi Frimpong - New York Daily News
- Pistons tie NBA’s single-season record for consecutive losses after falling to Nets ($) - Fiifi Frimpong - New York Daily News
- Nets hand Pistons 26th straight loss, tied for most ever in NBA ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Detroit Pistons tie NBA record with 26th straight loss after falling 126-115 to Nets - Omari Sankofa II - Detroit Free Press