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No Kevin Durant, no Kyrie Irving, no problem. Nets take down Bulls, 116-105

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Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

So far, so good.

In the first game of a new era, the Brooklyn Nets took down the Chicago Bulls, 116-105.

This was Brooklyn’s first time playing without superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who were sent to the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, respectively, before the conclusion of Thursday’s trade deadline. Brooklyn looked the part of a team playing unworried basketball, free of the impending drama of star holdouts and major roster turnover.

“It’s obviously really early, but the energy around the group feels similar to what it was like when we had sort of those development years where guys were kind of finding themselves but there was this good energy around the team,” said Joe Harris. “Everybody tried hard to play the right way, bought into what the coaches were preaching, and hopefully we can get to that point with this group that we have now.”

Spencer Dinwiddie, who spent five seasons in Brooklyn before being traded in a multi-team deal a year and a half ago, looked right at home in Brooklyn. This was his first game as a Net since December 2020 and he didn’t disappoint, dropping a team-high 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting to go with 6 assists.

“When you’re a sub-All-Star level guy and not necessarily a marquee name in terms of putting butts in the seats, then you understand that you can get jostled around, especially on a relatively affordable contract per production. So, it’s part of the business, you can’t be mad at it,” said Dinwiddie on the whirlwind of being dealt to Brooklyn at close to the trade deadline. He then concluded with, “Like I said, if I was gonna revisit a spot out of the three I had been at, it would definitely be here, like unequivocally.”

Continuing the trend of longtime Nets mainstays rising to the occasion, Joe Harris also had a very nice outing, going 6-of-9 from three for 18 points, all of which came in the second quarter when Brooklyn made its intentions known.

“It was weird. It was funny cause in the first half when Joe was raining threes, it clicked like, ‘Yo, that was just how it used to be’,” said Dinwiddie about Harris’ fiery second quarter. “So that was weird, but it’s fun.”

Cam Thomas had 20 points as well on a perfect 13-of-13 from the line, but struggled with shot selection, going just 3-of-16 from the field after dropping three-straight games of 40 points.

“It’s great to see you can’t replicate the fact that he starts, I think, 0-of-6, somewhere around there, from the field and then has a chance to sit on the bench collect himself get back into the game, and make an impact. And the big piece of that he starts spraying a little bit and getting downhill more. He’s going to garner some more attention,” said Vaughn. “What I loved about it was he did have some composure throughout the course of the night, and in the second half he figured out where to get to his spots and drive the basketball. So that was growth within itself because he started not making shots.”

For Chicago, Zach LaVine led the way with a game-high 38 points on 16-of-25 shooting. No other Bull scored more than 15 points.

Brooklyn’s defense, loaded up with a cadre of versatile defenders—Dinwiddie, Royce O’Neale, Ben Simmons, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Yuta Watanabe—lived up to its billing. Switching along the perimeter seamlessly forced the Bulls into a horrid 19.2% shooting night from deep on just 25 total threes. The Nets, meanwhile, shot 38.6% from deep on 44 total attempts from deep. That effectively sealed the deal in this one.

“Yeah, I think overall I don’t know what the ceiling is,” said Jacque Vaughn about Brooklyn’s defense. “We’re gonna try to dig in and grind every single day to get the most out of this group. I talked to the group about the expectations of winning every day and every piece of your fiber has to be dedicated towards doing your job as a teammate. So we’re gonna challenge these dudes, man, and try to get the most out of them and see what happens.”

The new era of Nets basketball did not get off to a great start offensively. Brooklyn was frigid offensively from deep, going just 2-of-11 from the three-point line. The Bulls, meanwhile, costed off a hot start from LaVine, who dropped 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Behind LaVine’s hot start, who spent the week in trade rumors, Chicago erupted to a 26-19 advantage.

Harris decided it was time to break Brooklyn’s subzero performance from behind the arc. In just 7 minutes of play, Harris, the longest-tenured Net, poured in 18 points on a perfect 6-of-6 from three. He simply couldn’t miss. Behind Joe’s ridiculous shooting performance, the Nets closed the gap and finished the half ahead, 53-50.

LaVine kept cooking in the third quarter to bring his Bulls back. He tacked on another 14 points on 8 shots. Brooklyn, meanwhile cooled off once more from behind the line and from the field in general at just 28.6% (on 14 threes) and 40%, respectively. The Bulls entered the fourth quarter ahead, 84-79.

The Bulls’ offense, despite the hot performance from LaVine, found itself in serious stagnation in the fourth quarter. LaVine and DeRozan were given a heavy share of the offense, and that fell right into the trap of Brooklyn’s defense, which is now loaded with strong individual defenders after deadline dealings. Dinwiddie dropped in 13 points, including one of his trademarked stepback threes with the shot clock expiring to ice the game. Yuta Watanabe also hit two corner threes from the left side of the floor off nice cross-court dimes from the youngsters, Thomas and Day’ron Sharpe, to carry Brooklyn across the finish line.

“We just found a way,” said Vaughn about the victory. “No panic from our guys. I thought they really did a good job of focusing on a game plan. That’s great to see us really lock in and especially at the end of the game defensively. So overall, we just found a way and figured it out and there were some ups and downs throughout the course of the game, but again, no panic from this group. Really nicely done.”

The Film Room

It was good to see Joe Harris look like himself again.

There’s been a lot of chatter about Joe this season, much of it unflattering. Would he be on the roster after the trade deadline? Was he the same player after getting a pair of ankle surgeries last season? Our Lucas Kaplan detailed on Twitter Joe’s decline as an athlete, his footspeed clearly reduced compared to a few years ago.

But he can still shoot the rock. Brilliantly. As mentioned, Joe rescued Brooklyn’s offense, which was caught in the deepest of sludge in the first quarter with only 19 total points, by exploding into an absolute inferno in the second quarter. We’re talking 18 points on six made threes-level on fire. He looked like the Joe Harris of old who paced the league in three-point percentage for two full seasons.

Harris got himself going relocating deep into the right corner for his first three-pointer. His second three-point came from sprinting off a pindown screen from Dinwiddie into a handoff from Ben Simmons in one of Brooklyn’s patented ‘Chicago’ sets. His third three came from Simmons once more—a running trey-ball in transition.

Three-point number four was well-contested by Alex Caruso. It didn’t matter. All net. If you thought that the last three were defended well? Wait until you see Joe’s fifth-made three: a double-pump look with the shot clock expiring. The dude was unstoppable.

You can watch all of Joe’s made threes below:

It’s good to see him get his mojo back.

Milestone Watch

  • Joe Harris knocked down a season-high six 3-pointers in the first half and matched his season-high with 18 points tonight. The six 3-pointers made are the most for a player off the bench in any half in the NBA this season.
  • Harris continued his hot shooting In February. After an up-and-down season, Harris has picked up the pace in February, shooting 14-of-27 (51.9%) over five games this month.
  • Cam Thomas scored 20 points after three 40 pieces, ending his streak.

New Nets in the house

The key pieces of the Nets haul for Kevin Durant — Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson — were in attendance Thursday. Bridges and Johnson. who sat courtside but not on the bench, cheered on their new teammates. They’re expected to debut vs. the 76ers at Barclays on Saturday night.

Watching from the sidelines is a new phenomenon for Bridges. He has not missed a game in the regular season or playoffs since being drafted 10th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. Bridges’ last missed game, in fact, dates back to his junior year of high school. He had perfect attendance at Villanova during three years in college.

So does him sitting ruin the streak? Will he wind up playing in 81 games this season? Nope. He has already played in 56 games this season for Phoenix. The Nets have played 55 games so if he plays in all 27 remaining games, he will wind up playing in 83 games — 56 with the Suns, 27 with the Nets.

Yuta explodes in front of parents

Give Yuta Watanabe’s parents front row seats. With mom and dad in the arena, Yuta shot 4-of-5 from three, upping his season percentage to nearly 50% again after a short slump (meaning only 40%.) The 28-year-old posted a picture of the family on Instagram post-game.

His mother, Kumi, played professionally for the Chanson V-Magic and the Japan women’s national team. His father played for the Kumagai Gumi Bruins at the professional level.

Cam Thomas apologizes

Cam Thomas and Spencer Dinwiddie were the stars of the show Thursday and so they got the post-game gig on TNT but as it turned out, the star turn might not have been worth it for Thomas.

Two days ago, Dinwiddie had joked with the media that while the Nets may not have acquired the most talented players in the deal, they did get the “the best-looking.”

“And the Nets needed some help in that department,” he said.

The 21-year-old Thomas was asked about Dinwiddie’s assertion and he responded...

“We already had good-looking guys, no homo.” That, unfortunately, is no-no. The NBA even aired PSAs from players telling young fans that “no homo” and other anti-gay slurs are offensive to the LGBQT community. Five years ago, Nikola Jokic was fined $25,000 by the league for using the phrase in a similar circumstances.

So not long after the interview, Thomas took to social media to apologize...

Side-by-side says something

In their official announcement of the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving trades, there was a telling omission.

Here’s the quote from Sean Marks in the team’s announcement of the KD trade...

“After thorough evaluation of the best path forward, we believe making this trade now positions the franchise for long-term success,” said Nets General Manager Sean Marks. “Mikal and Cam are elite, ascending, versatile wings, plus the draft capital provides us additional avenues to continue to acquire talent. We remain steadfast in our commitment to building the team Brooklyn deserves. We are excited to welcome Mikal, Cam and their families to Brooklyn and thank Kevin for the moments and memories he delivered our fanbase.”

And here’s the quote from Marks in the team’s announcement of the Kyrie trade...

“We’re excited to add Spencer and Dorian to our roster, while also securing draft compensation that will increase our flexibility moving forward,” said Nets General Manager Sean Marks. “Spencer is a dynamic, multi-talented guard who we are very familiar with from his previous stint in Brooklyn. Dorian is an experienced wing who brings perimeter shooting and defensive versatility to our group. Together, the two players will fit seamlessly with our roster and provide the team with proven veteran talent.”

Spot the difference? Marks thanked KD for “the moments and memories he delivered our fanbase.” There was nothing close to that in the Kyrie trade announcement. Inadvertent? possibly. And Marks did thank Kyrie and wish him well when talking to the media before the game. But it seems more like snub. You decide.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets get to stay on Saturday, hosting the Philadelphia 76ers at 6:00 p.m. EST. The Nets are 0-2 against Philadelphia and former Net James Harden. Coverage can be found on NBA TV as well as the YES Network and App.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to Blog a Bull, our Bulls’ sister site.