The Brooklyn Nets couldn’t wait to paste a dub over their previous loss to the shorthanded Charlotte Hornets. After jetting out to a 43-22 lead on some Mikal Bridges-branded kerosene, they never looked back, beating the Orlando Magic by a 129-101 final score.
Brooklyn Bridges finished the contest with 42 points while shooting 12-of-20 from the field. He came away with three blocks as well, reminding those that somehow managed to forget about his his two-way prowess. After a snoozer from him on Thursday, Spencer Dinwiddie also added 22 points with three assists while going 8-of-15 on field goals.
The win for the Nets brings them to a 10-9 mark nearly a quarter way through the 2023-24 campaign. Trading wins for losses, even three in a row at times, it’s reflective of Brooklyn’s season so far — filled with conflicting highs and lows, but all-in-all slightly positive.
Last night was one of the “highs” as Brooklyn ended Orlando’s nine-game winning streak. That’s something for the Nets and their fans celebrate on this lazy, rainy Sunday. In celebrating, here’s three things to takeaway.
This Team Knows How to Punch Back
Nothing about Thursday’s loss to the Hornets sat well with Brooklyn. The normally animated Jacque Vaughn ended his presser with us after just three minutes, looking just as frustrated as he did court side. Mikal Bridges shared that look of disappointment post game as well.
After such a dejected evening, you’ve got to be on the lookout for a strong bounce-back effort. You want to see your team get up off the mat and fight back. They weren’t wearing the stars and stripes on their shorts and I didn’t hear any Bill Conti music in the arena, but Vaughn, Bridges, and the rest of the crew delivered like a prime Rocky Balboa.
Bridges came out throwing haymakers. He put up 26 first quarter points, the most by any NBA player in an opening frame since Luka Doncic poured 28 onto the Los Angeles Clippers in a February 2022 contest.
“Just didn’t like that loss against Charlotte,” Bridges said. “That’s what it is, I just wanna win. That’s me just scoring like that. That’s what it is. But, I just did not want to lose that game.”
Bridges was animated for the entirety of his explosive performance. You could just tell he wanted to be out there, wanted to score, and wanted to right the team’s wrongs from Thursday evening. Orlando just happened to be the poor soul in his way that he’d have to put in the dirt while doing so.
Brooklyn’s defense, which became a notable discussion topic after allowing .505/.583/1.00 splits to Charlotte, burdened the Magic like shots to the body all night long as well. Put simply, the energy was there, as blocking shots and deflecting passes looked like a fun habit for Brooklyn rather than a chore.
Orlando shot just 40.2 percent from the field and 31.0 percent from deep as well — a necessary decline to what Brooklyn allowed vs Charlotte. They also enjoyed a +21 rebounding differential two days removed from Vaughn calling their effort on the glass “unacceptable.”
To be fair, this may have been a hand picked fight for Brooklyn. The Magic played this one as a second part of a back-to-back without Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter Jr. You could tell they were winded — often missing short on jumpers and failing to finish around the cylinder.
However, the Nets still delivered in every way you wanted them to. They did not squeak out a win via split decision. They knocked Orlando out. It’s perhaps Brooklyn’s best display of resilience this year when you consider how they brought everything they didn’t vs Charlotte.
Welcome Back Dennis Smith Jr.
Between the Ben Simmons and Cam Thomas injury sagas, it became easy to lose track of Dennis Smith Jr. The backup point man for Brooklyn had missed six straight for the Nets with a lower back sprain, but returned Saturday vs Orlando.
Smith Jr. turned in a solid, high-energy performance in accordance with the team’s aforementioned “punch back” attitude. He added 10 points while shooting 5-10 from the field. He also dished six assists, came up with 11 rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot.
Even from a health standpoint alone Smith Jr. looked fantastic. He ran the floor, got up to contest shots, and finish off his own. Nets fans know all too well how tricky back issues can be, but Smith showed zero signs of any lagging pain as he flew around the court...
“I’m a savage,” Smith Jr. said after the game. Simple, yet true. Well said DSJ.
Charity Stripe Getting Popular
Aside from his stout defense, Bridges’ ability to get to the line last night was the most underrated component of his Orlando onslaught. It also could be pointing to something larger in the works for the Nets.
Bridges shot 15-18 from the free throw line, frequently using his quick first step to beat Orlando defenders and then make them pay on their flawed attempts to recover.
But he’s not the only Net to make the charity stripe a second home lately. Spencer Dinwiddie went 10-of-10 on free throws to help Brooklyn get by Toronto earlier this week. Although it hasn’t always translated to free throws, there’s been a visible effort by him to initiate contact and draw whistles this year.
Generally speaking, Brooklyn’s free throw line has collected a lot of dust this year. The Nets average just 19.8 attempts from it per game, the league’s third lowest mark behind the spiraling Memphis Grizzlies and rebuilding San Antonio Spurs.
But in their past three games, they have that mark up to 24 per game, which pushes them into the top half of the league for said stat.
You’ll find no bigger “nobody wants to watch guys shoot free throws all day” person than myself. But with how important it is for the Nets to dictate a game’s pace I like this as a development.
If they’re unable to run and gun, being able to manufacture points at the line is a nice fail safe to have. Look for them to keep working for whistles especially if their offense stalls out any point in future games.