clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nets lose excruciating thriller against Philadelphia 76ers, 101-98

The Nets came out of the trade deadline with cautious optimism about the future. Guess what happened next.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

You have to laugh. What else could you do after this one? There were three pivotal moments in the final 15 seconds as the clock was, slowly but surely, winding down at the Barclays Center. The Brooklyn Nets. needing one final stop, up 98-97 on the Philadelphia 76ers with 12 seconds left, and seemingly getting it as James Harden, in his return to Brooklyn, miraculously blew an open layup. But the Nets watched the ball slip through their hands, despite out-rebounding Philadelphia on the night, as they surrendered an offensive rebound and free throws to Joel Embiid. 99-98, Sixers lead.

Then, Mikal Bridges found a great look at the rim to re-take the lead on a beautifully designed inbounds play. The hero in his first game in Brooklyn? Of course not; his look rimmed out.

“I thought it was good,” said Bridges. “I was hot, I was hot. But it’s a part of life.”

How about Spencer Dinwiddie having a true welcome-back moment just three game-seconds and ten real-time minutes later? Again, no; nothing could ever go that swimmingly for the Nets and their fans. After making just three of his first 11 shots from the field, his 12th shot, a game-tying 35-footer at the buzzer, was waved off. Too late, ball still in his hands. 0.9 seconds wasn’t enough, and Dinwiddie’s rough night would remain just that, nothing more.

Dinwiddie was still in the bargaining phase, post-game: “I actually got a text from my biomechanics dude, saying that he actually, legitimately timed it and it was 0.78, on the nose, which is funny. But you know, that’s life, I guess we gotta talk to our in-game clock operator, right?”

Maybe they should. In any case, Brooklyn loses a heart-breaker, 101-98.

One thing about the new-look Nets, a phrase I hope I can finally stop saying after three-plus years of various uses, is that they’re gonna look real good when they’re as amped up as they were on Saturday night.

Of course, one of the main appeals of this squad is that intensity and effort should be a non-negotiable part of their identity, rostering more than handful of guys who make their bread off of defense and energy. In his pregame comments, Jacque Vaughn said that he was excited to coach “multiple people who are going to enjoy guarding and competing on a nightly basis.”

But the Brooklyn Nets were playing with a little something extra against Philly. Of course, we don’t quite know what the baseline for this squad is yet, but they just had that unquantifiable juice on Saturday, and it carried them through 48 minutes of a rollicking game vs. a contender. And not much changed for Jacque Vaughn in the before vs. after of coaching this squad for the first time.

“I think the biggest thing is we only gave up 101 points,” was Vaughn’s most positive takeaway. “So I told the group ‘If we’re able to put ourselves in positions to defend that way on an every night basis, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win every single game.’ So I commend our group for really concentrating on the defensive end of the floor and give ourselves a chance.”

That it was James Harden’s return to the Barclays Center since his departure from Brooklyn, almost exactly one year ago, certainly didn’t dim the energy in the building. But other than some moderate booing, booing that quickly dissipated by the second quarter, the Harden storyline was not meant to be. The Brooklyn Nets just went through a painful divorce, why boo your high-school crush?

Rather, it felt like the new Nets were eager to prove they could be as fun as the optimists had hoped for, and the old Nets were ready to hoop without the chains on. (See: Joe Harris, who shot 6-9, all from three.)

Every time a Net hit the floor, there were three more to pick him up. Every dunk, every and-one was greeted with a whole bunch of primal screams. The defensive rotations were not always perfect, but they were great, and that’s largely thanks to pure hustle and effort. For example, whoever doubled Joel Embiid was responsible for getting to the opposite corner after he gave the ball up. That’s not an easy ask, but Brooklyn was game.

On his defensively stout teammates, Mikal Bridges was effusive in his praise: “They’re all active, long arms. They’re all tall. It’s tough for the offense, just, about to drive, just seeing that wall.”

And yet, they just couldn’t emerge victorious due to all that was so predictable before the game started.

For the 76ers, the usual suspects were a problem again. While the Nets and their crew of long-men did an admirable job slowing down the dreaded Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll, the dynamic duo combined for 66 of Philadelphia’s 101 points, and almost none of them were easy. The other three Philly starters combined for just five points. And surprise, surprise, Harden and Embiid accounted for 22 of Philadelphia’s 30 free-throws. Brooklyn shot just 13 freebies.

Spencer Dinwiddie kept it straight-forward in his analysis of the free-throw disparity: “I think that’s the biggest benefit of being a superstar in this league, know what I mean? The benefit of the doubt, all the 50/50 plays, they’re gonna go your way. They got two on that side, we got zero over here.”

Jacque Vaughn, understandably, did not feel like talking quite as much about the issue:

It turns out this squad may have been fairly predictable - their strengths are is immutable as their weaknesses. Great defense all night, but how much creation they have on the other end is a major question. When Spencer Dinwiddie doesn’t have it going, it may look rough, for the time being.

Yet, the future is bright enough in Brooklyn. The games are sure to be enjoyable, at the least, the players are likable and play with effort, and so is the coach. Best of all, they don’t suck, and there’s no reason to ask them to, considering the lack of draft picks dependent on their own record. Saturday’s tight loss agains the 76ers proved all of that.

But damn, it still would’ve been nice to win. As Mikal Bridges said post-game, “It was fun. It was real fun....But I wish we could have got the dub.”

Film Room

  • Just the positives for tonight (I’ll have a more in-depth film overview of this squad another time) so let’s start with these series of possessions from Brooklyn to start the second quarter. This is the best the Ben Simmons + four shooters offense has looked all year, easily. Perhaps it’s because Simmons isn’t constantly looking for a release valve in Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant:
  • It came in a loss, but I think, when we look back at this season of Nic Claxton’s exponential growth and burst onto the scene, these are the thirty seconds that will come to mind:
  • It’s a real shame that Brooklyn couldn’t pull this one out, because man, they got some crucial stops when they needed to. Just take a look at this defense:

FYI, Simmons, playing against his old team, finished with four points, three assists, three rebounds and a block in 16 minutes.

Milestone Watch

Not much to cover in this one, other than:

  • Saturday marked the first time in Joe Harris’ career that he’s made six or more 3-pointers in consecutive games. His 18 points also matched a season-high. Harris is now shooting 55.5% from the arc in February: 20-of-36.
  • Mikal Bridges’ 23 points extended his career-best streak of 20-point games to seven.

Harden supplies the fireworks

In fact, it was not the Barclays Center crowd that cooked most of the beef in James Harden’s return, but Harden himself, in his post-game comments. He offered a lengthy response to a question concerning if Brooklyn could have done anything to keep him, which you can read in full, below, if you’re somewhat of a masochist:

“I didn’t just ask to leave for no reason,” said Harden.

The 10-time All-Star and former MVP said he came to the Nets to play with KD and Kyrie: “That didn’t happen as much as I’d like to or probably the organization wanted to. It was just something where I knew it wasn’t going to change. So I just had to make an individual decision.”

Looking back on last year at this time, anything the Nets could’ve done to keep him:

“Yeah, there was a lot of things. A lot of dysfunction, clearly. There was a lot of internal things, I’m not gonna just put in the media or anything and that was one of the reasons why I chose to make my decisions. Now, fast forward to today, I don’t look like the crazy one. I don’t look like the quitter or whatever the media wanna call me. I knew what was going on and I just decided I’m not built for this. I don’t wanna deal with that. I wanna play basketball and have fun and enjoy doing it. Fast forward to today, they got a whole new roster.”

Ex-Suns make their debuts

On a happier note, this was, of course, the Brooklyn debuts for Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. Bridges went for 23 points on 8-of-18 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from deep, and added six boards with two steals. Johnson was just as willing to fire, putting up 12 points on 13 shots, including 2-of-8 from three, an off-night for a 40% 3-point shooter. He added seven rebounds and three steals himself, The defense from that duo was as good as advertised. Here’s their best sequence of the night...

It wasn’t a seamless transition, though, according to a chuckling Bridges “Coach said a couple things, I’m looking at him like, ‘What?!’ I’m looking at Dinwiddie, like ‘What am I supposed to do?!” This, before adding, “But everybody’s been helpful, man. If I get confused, teammates help me, so it’s great.”

And on that ‘Brook-lyn Bridg-es’ chant? “I love it. Trust me...I kind of wanted to join in and make them yell it louder.”

The Brigade loved it.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next?

Can the Nets beat the Knicks 10 straight times? They’ll give it a try on Monday at Madison Square Garden. The game will be broadcast on YES Network and MSG starting at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head on over to Liberty Ballers, our 76ers sister site on SB Nation.