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Nets lose third-straight against Nuggets, 108-102

Denver, reeling from a tough stretch, got back at the Nets for their upset last week.

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Denver Nuggets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Make it three straight losses for the Brooklyn Nets.

In a matinee game on Sunday afternoon, the Nets fell 108-102 to the Denver Nuggets, who were on a back-to-back after narrowly losing to the New York Knicks on Saturday. With the loss, Brooklyn crept further down the standings, sitting just 1.5 games ahead of the seventh-seeded Miami Heat. The Nets have also lost the first two games of their four-game homestand.

“I think overall you see the start of the game. I thought on our road trip, we had great energy, great juice, and somehow we’ve come home and lacked a little bit of energy and juice to start the game heck. Happened versus (Sacramento) and happen again tonight. So I think the starts of the game are important for us just for confidence-wise, just for setting the tone,” said Vaugh. “And I think early on, they were the aggressors and they set the tone of the game.”

Brooklyn was led by Mikal Bridges, who dropped 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting. Nic Claxton also had a solid showing with 19 points on 9-of-12 from the field and 8 rebounds.

Denver was remarkably efficient. As a team, they put outrageous 52.5/52.2/92.3 splits and outrebounded the Nets, 40-33. They also outscored Brooklyn inside the painted area, 52-42.

“Continue to harp on it,” said Cam Johnson about the Nets solving their rebounding issues. “Continue to crush the glass and just figure out our rotations and where we’re going to be so we know where those rebounds are coming to.”

Denver’s Big 3 also all put up 20+ points:

Nikola Jokic had his 28th triple-double of the season with 22 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Michael Porter Jr. put up a game-high 28 points on five made threes to go with 9 rebounds. Jamal Murray also pitched in 25 points, 20 of which came in the first quarter to give his squad a sizeable advantage out of the gates.

“I think he had it in a variety of ways. So whether it was post-ups, transition buckets, ability to shoot the three ball. We put some attention on your Jokic earlier, so he was able to get free that way. So it was an assortment of things that allowed him to be very aggressive,” said Vaughn. “And he was very aggressive to start the game and get rewarded for it.”

Murray could not miss from deep from basically the second the ball was tipped, knocking down two wide-open corner threes which gave him rhythm to connect on a third and fourth 3-pointer. Murray continued to keep that rhythm, drawing contact to draw two free-throws and then hit a silky fading one-footed jumper to get to 20 points in the quarter. Murray himself nearly outscored the Nets, with Denver up 33-21 to end the first.

At the end of the game, Bridges took responsibility for the slow start.

“I think personally I take a lot of blame because I think I was just poor on the defensive end. Obviously, I was missing shots early, but that comes with the game just missing that’s just part of it, but I can control playing defense. So that’s what messed me up right now and that’s on me I’ve just gotta be more locked in on that side of the ball,” said Bridges. “If you’re messing up and you’ve got four guys out there and one guy’s messing up, it’s gonna be tough, especially against a real good team like Denver.”

And yet, Bridges started to get going after a quiet first quarter with 7 points to start the second quarter, but Brooklyn could not shrink Denver’s advantage under double-digit points even with the Nuggets’ bench unit in. Jokic and Murray checked in at the 8-minute mark in the second, yet the Nets went on a 6-0 run to bring the score to 42-38. Jokic started cooking inside as the Nuggets posted him up repeatedly when Brooklyn went small with Finney-Smith at center, dropping 6 points on a variety of finishes inside.

When Michael Porter Jr. made a pull-up two-pointer in the face of Cam Johnson, Jacque Vaughn was forced to call timeout as Denver built its lead up to 53-40. Though Nic Claxton had a pair of highlight slams, one off an offensive rebound and the other out of the pick-and-roll, Denver kept cooking. Jokic first fed Porter Jr. with a nasty skip pass for a corner three and then lofted a pass on high-low action that Porter Jr. finished through contact. Brooklyn finished behind at the half, up 63-48.

Claxton decided to take things into his hands to start the third with two dunks and a layup, and Bridges started producing out of the pick-and-roll en route to seven points in under a minute. Denver remained steady, however, as Jokic ripped down a rebound, took the ball up the floor himself, and then finished with a soft floater. Then, on the very next possession, he kicked to the right corner from the top of the key, got deep post position, and then finished with yet another feathery floating shot. Denver was able to build upon its advantage behind their MVP candidate, finishing the third ahead 91-71.

Things looked over for Brooklyn until a lineup of Seth Curry, Day’Ron Sharpe, Cam Thomas, Johnson, and Royce O’Neale got Brooklyn back into the ballgame. The Nets went on a 23-12 run and the energy in the Barclays Center began to rise. Unfortunately, after three missed three-pointers from Curry, Johnson, and Thomas, and then a made layup from Aaron Gordon and a layup from Caldwell-Pope, Denver was able to regain a sizable enough advantage to march across the finish line.

The Film Room

Jacque Vaughn said it plainly pregame. Nikola Jokic was on the first, second, and third pages of the scouting report. There is a reason, after all, he’s the back-to-back MVP in contention for his third-straight award. He can hurt you in a variety of ways as arguably the best offensive player in the league.

He’s a good screener in the pick-and-roll, capable of rolling and lofting short-range shots or carving up defenses in the short roll as the best passing center in NBA history. The beauty of Jokic is that he can also function as the ball-handler in the screen-and-roll game, which puts opposing centers in situations they’re not normally comfortable in.

Oh, and he’s a brute in the post. He’s got just about every move you’d need to score with efficiency down low—drop steps, spin moves, and he’s got soft hands as well. Maybe most importantly, playing out of the post allows him to utilize his height to see over the top of defenses and spray passes to his shooters. When the Nets went small with Finney-Smith at center—the key to winning the last time these two teams matched up—Jokic absorbed the double-team and whizzed a skip pass to a wide-open Porter Jr. in the corner when Cam Johnson helped over...

This year, Jokic has tweaked with moving more off-ball. That, too, puts his match-ups in unfamiliar situations. After all, it is very unusual to see centers cut from the wings to the rim like a guard or forward. But because Jokic has gravity as a reliable three-point shooter, he can catch players off-guard as a cutter.

“Yeah, I think he’s extremely crafty, knows how to get open. You see that from all the marks on his arms when people grab him, holding him, and his ability to use angles and to use his incredible footwork to get bigs the majority of times to bite on little fakes. So it’s not guards he’s playing against, it’s bigs who are reacting,” said Vaughn. “So I think he has the advantage that way. I think that’s why you give him different looks, but he’s on different areas of the floor. He’ll bring that thing. He’ll pass it to the right wing and get a pindown, shuffle cut, UCLA cut, widescreen, all those things. So it’s a handful for guys and that’s why it’s a great challenge.”

That’s exactly what happens here. Porter Jr. catches at the left elbow, and Jokic ‘slice cuts’ around Murray’s screen to get the bucket at the cup. For as good as Nic Claxton is as a defender, he isn’t great at getting around screens—just because he isn’t particularly used to navigating them. Those are the unforgiving spots that Jokic puts you in.

Bruce Brown tribute video

Early in the game, the Nets ran a tribute video to Bruce Brown, a fan favorite who Denver signed to contract last summer...

Milestone Watch

With a steal and a block Sunday, Nic Claxton has registered at least one defensive stop (block or steal) in 51 straight games. It is the longest active streak in the NBA as well as the longest by a Nets player since Jason Kidd had a 50-game streak that ended in 2006.

Standings Watch

The Nets, now 39-32, remain in the sixth seed, two and a half behind the Knicks and a game ahead of the Heat ... and the play-in tournament. The Nets currently hold a 2-0 tiebreaker over the Heat with two games to play. The two teams play at Miami Saturday.

No Moses Brown

Jacque Vaughn said he hoped he could fit Moses Brown, officially signed Friday to a 10-day contract, into Sunday’s game, but with both Nic Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe playing well, he did not get into the game.

“[We] still have Day’Ron [Sharpe] and his ability to play for us,” Vaughn said. “But the way I coach, at some point you will see Moses and we’ll see him during the stretch of the next 10 days for sure.”

He will wear No. 0 when he does play. He’ll be the 23rd player to don a Nets uniform this season..

As Sponge Bob might say...

One last farewell

Nets fans and NetsDaily readers, I just wanted to say one last goodbye and thank you all for following along over the years. This was my last game as a credentialed Nets reporter, and this recap will be the last thing I contribute to NetsDaily. Surreal, sad, and strange are the three words that come to mind writing that out.

You’ll be in great hands, however, here at ND. Net Income will continue to be the machine that fuels this website and wonderful community, and we’ve got a bunch of talented writers—Jordan, Alec, Ajayi, Lucas, Brian, and Collin—that will continue to produce the best Nets content on the web.

It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you, once more, for giving this California kid his first home.

What’s next

Brooklyn stays home to host the fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday. Coverage begins at 7:30 PM EST on NBA TV.

For a different perspective on today’s game, head to Denver Stiffs, our Nuggets sister site.