The stakes were well-defined. The Brooklyn Nets visited the Miami Heat on Saturday night with each team holding 34 losses to their name. Whoever came out on top would conrol the driver’s seat for the Eastern conference’s six-seed, for the chance to narrowly escape the play-in tournament.
There was also the matter of Brooklyn’s recent form, which was less than ideal. Not only would a win be vital in the standings, but the Nets needed to put an end to a five-game losing streak as well, one that would have ended with their previous game if not for a gut-wrenching, last-second shot by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In any case, Brooklyn’s visit to Miami represented this team’s biggest test yet, perhaps the first taste of playoff-level intensity for a group formed at the trade-deadline not two months ago.
Well, the Nets passed with flying colors, riding a dominant second half to a 129-100 win, the largest margin of victory the team has ever recorded against the Miami Heat. It was certainly one way to end a losing streak.
At first, though, it felt like the Nets were in danger of getting run out of Miami-Dade Arena without much tension, thanks to hot jump-shooting from the home team. The Heat made nine of their 15 3-point attempts in the first half, and a handful of long-twos to boot. Contested, open, off-the-dribble, it seemingly didn’t matter.
Not that the Nets were doing themselves any favors on the defensive side of the ball. There was no room for slippage, yet Brooklyn was consistently breaking down vs. the pick-and-roll, while losing track of Miami’s shooters off the ball. They often made it easy for the Heat, but even when they stayed solid, Miami scored anyway.
Edmond Sumner was straightforward in his postmortem report of the first half: “We were just giving them easy baskets, like, we’re not playing to our strengths...most of it was little miscommunications.”
Nic Claxton was in agreement as well: “We were just letting people roam too freely, getting slip-outs, getting to the rim.”
Jimmy Butler didn’t even have to make much of an appearance. Max Strus came off the bench to make all of his first nine shots, including five 3-pointers, for 23 first-half points. Bam Adebayo rolled to the basket without much resistance to the tune of a dozen points. Tyler Herro added 14, thanks to his usual mix of shot-making and craftsmanship.
For Brooklyn, a team that has struggled so mightily to put the ball in the basket (27th in offensive rating in March), the entire first half was highway to the danger zone. But it never got out of hand, even as the Heat built their game-high lead of 14 points midway through the second quarter. For a nice change of pace, the Nets offense did the heavy lifting over the first 24 minutes.
Cam Johnson poured in 15 points, which included three makes from long-range, a welcome sight considering his shooting struggles as a Net thus far. Mikal Bridges added 14 of his own, nine of which came from the free-throw line. Royce O’Neale and Ed Sumner, in his first appearance since March 16th, contributed an efficient 16 points on eight total shots between them.
But more than any one player, Brooklyn’s most consistent source of offense in the first half was Day’Ron Sharpe, who’s been continuing his run of strong play. Sharpe contributed four of Brooklyn’s eight offensive boards, all of which were instrumental in keeping the team afloat vs. a Heat team that was truly living up to their name. Heading into Saturday’s contest, Miami had allowed the second-fewest second-chance points in the league, but the defensive glass may have been the source of their downfall vs. Brooklyn.
The Nets did, in fact, survive the first half, trailing by a score of 69-65 going into the break. And it turned out that four points was nothing for them to overcome once the second half got going.
“We took a punch from them on the road. We didn’t flinch, which was good,” said Jacque Vaughn. “Then we just talked about a few adjustments we had to make in the second half and that third quarter was pretty impressive on both ends of the floor.”
On Brooklyn’s first two possessions of the third quarter, Johnson and Bridges each hit a three, and the Nets never trailed again. On offense, on defense, and everywhere in between, they rolled the Miami Heat in the second half, outscoring them 64-31, with their lead touching 30 halfway through the fourth quarter. A home crowd that exploded with each basket Miami scored in the first half barely made a peep thereafter; most of them had departed long before the final buzzer.
It was the sort of half, which Vaughn called “a prime example of who we have to be”, that sends every starter home with a smile. Nic Claxton: 14/10/4 and three blocks, including some highlight alley-oop finishes lobbed by Spencer Dinwiddie, who finished with an impressive 15/7/9 of his own, only turning the ball over twice. Dorian Finney-Smith’s 12 points may not make the headlines, but his highlight dunks might.
Dorian Finney-Smith trails the break and finishes with a huge dunk: pic.twitter.com/iKHkwzBdU1— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) March 26, 2023
DORIAN FINNEY-SMITH PUTS IT BACK!— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) March 26, 2023
(via @BrooklynNets) pic.twitter.com/8yOIRJF9vM
And finally, the “Twins” — Johnson and Bridges — combined for 50 points and eight made 3-pointers. After a scary first half, Brooklyn finished the night with a 3-point percentage 5 points higher than Miami.
Asked about finding his rhythm by YES Network’s Megan Triplett, Cam Johnson kept it simple, crediting “just sticking with it. Putting in the work and just trusting it.”
But the second half wasn’t just about the Heat turning cold at an opportune time; rather, the Nets were as tight as they’ve been all season on defense, rotating and communicating at a level basketball nerds were dreaming of when this rangy group was put together. Sure, Brooklyn scoring 39 points in the third quarter and making ten of their 19 long-range attempts in the second half represented a sorely-needed offensive outburst. But the 17-0 run the Nets went on in that third quarter, a run that ultimately sealed the game, had just as much to do with the renewed defensive intensity the group came out of the break with.
Johnson specifically praised Nic Claxton, calling him a “big part” of the turnaround. “He covers up so much stuff in the paint. He was flying around, contesting shots, blocking shots, rebounding the ball. That gets us out in transition, that gets us some easy threes, easy layups, and I thought that was big for us tonight.”
Claxton was even the beneficiary himself of one of those easy layups after a stop on Saturday night:
Things you love to see ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/T0Aye1fMKr— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 26, 2023
Edmond Sumner also highlighted the team’s defense: “I think we were getting open shots in the first half as well, but when you’re getting stops, I feel like that’s a confidence booster,” later adding “I feel like, us, defensively, that’s our identity. That gets us going, so I feel like that really just sparked it.”
After nearly giving up a 70-ball in the first half, who can argue with Sumner when Brooklyn was producing defensive possessions like these after the halftime break, executing multiple switches and swarming to the paint to meet potential threats?
This defensive possession, where the weak link in Spencer Dinwiddie was all over the place, really defined that 3Q for Brooklyn: pic.twitter.com/WCLeo3PK8n— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) March 26, 2023
After such a heart-wrenching loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Brooklyn Nets came down to The Sunshine State with pivotal business to attend to. There is no question that they delivered against the Miami Heat, weathering a tricky first half and embarrassing the home team in the second.
Forget the implications on the Eastern conference standings (for now); this was the sort of win Nets fans, and likely players and coaches, needed to rest easy after a five-game losing streak. Brooklyn is now one measly half-game up on Miami in the race to stay out of the play-in tournament, having far from an ironclad grip on the conference’s six-seed. Their work is anything but done.
But that’s a worry for another time; on Saturday night, the Nets earned a feel-good victory. After over a week of losing, there’s nothing wrong with feeling good about it.
- As mentioned, the Nets outscored Miami 64-31 in the second half. That 33-point advantage represented Brooklyn’s biggest in a second half this season.
- That second half included a 39-18 third quarter for Brooklyn; that 21-point advantage represents their third best quarter of the season.
- Nic Claxton’s 14 points and ten boards were good for his team-high 25th double-double. He has also posted the most points/rebounds double-doubles of any player 23 years old and under in the NBA this season.
- Mikal Bridges moved into first place in minutes played this season with 2,699, five more than 2,694 who didn’t play Saturday. Assuming both play all their remaining games, Bridges has an advantage in that he has eight more games left, Randle only seven. Bridges led the league in minutes last season.
- Mikal Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie and Cam Johnson have now played more minutes together as Nets than Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden played together as Nets, per Shaun Powell of NBA TV.
- Mikal Bridges is now averaging 19.3 points for the season, Suns and Nets combined. He was averaging 17.2 when he joined the Nets. To average 20.0 for the season, Bridges would have to average 27.5 over the last eight games (assuming he can continue his consecutive game streak.) Doable? He’s averaging 25.8 points for the Nets in 19 games.
Ben Simmons update
Cherish those words, because it may be the last time you read them this season. In his pregame presser, Jacque Vaughn told the media that Simmons is “probably not going to join us for the rest of the year.” This follows Friday’s news that Simmons was diagnosed with an impingement in his back, and cements this season as the second consecutive one that the 6’10” Australian will not be able to finish out on the court.
Vaughn pushed back on including any specific details, adding that “certainty will come once he continues to be looked at by specialists.”
And thus, unceremoniously, concludes Year 2 (or was this Year 1?) of the Ben Simmons experience, a year that surely did not live up to the hopes Nets fans had for him initially.
Edmond Sumner exits early
In his first appearance in over a week, Sumner provided exactly what Brooklyn needed: 12 points as a spark off the bench...
BKN pushes the pace off a make, Ed Sumner finishes with an and-1 pic.twitter.com/DDYtkkACoC— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) March 26, 2023
But during the middle of the fourth quarter, Nets PR tweeted out that the Xavier product would not return due to an unspecified right hip ailment. Luckily, Sumner didn’t sound too worried about his condition, post-game: “I'll be alright man. Go home, rest, see how I feel tomorrow, but I know me. I’ll be here, I’ll be ready to go.”
Specifically, Sumner added that he iced the hip “to calm it down some,” before dropping a rare, well-executed third-person reference: “I’m pretty confident in myself. Unless I just can’t walk in the morning, Ed Sumner will be playing. It’s no question about me, unless I literally can’t walk.”
No Moses Brown again
With Nic Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe both playing well (a combined 27 points, 18 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and a steal,) Moses Brown was once again a DNP-CD. He’s now been stuck to the bench for the first three games in his 10-day contract. The Nets signed Brown to a 10-day on March 17, meaning they will have to decide Monday to give him a second 10-day; sign another free agent; convert one of the two-way players, David Duke Jr. or Dru Smith, to a standard NBA deal .. or do nothing. Post-game rosters are set on April 10, the day after the regular season ends.
As Sponge Bob might say...
Brooklyn will stay in Florida, traveling over to Orlando to face the Magic on the second night of a back-to-back. Sunday’s game will tip off at 6:00 p.m. ET, and it’s another one the Nets have to have, at least according to Nic Claxton: “We got another game tomorrow; we got to have short term memory, learn from this game. There’s still things that we can do better. Just keep going, use the momentum from this one and keep going.”
For a different perspective, head over to Hot Hot Hoops, our SB Nation sister site covering the Miami Heat.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 129, Miamis 129, Miami Heat 100 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Brooklyn Nets 129, Miami Heat 100 (Video) - NBA
- Highlights: Mikal Bridges vs. Heat / 27 PTSt / 27 PTS (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Highlights: Cam Johnson vs. Heat / 23 PTS (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Cam Johnson talks courtside after 129-100 win (Video) - Meghan Triplett - YES Network
- Jacque Vaughn discusses win against Heat (Video) - YES Network
- Mikal Bridges discusses 129-100 win against Heat (Video) - YES Network
- Nic Claxton recaps win over Heat (Video) - YES Network
- Edmond Sumner on 129-100 victory (Video) - YES Network
- Nets embarrass Heat, roll to 129-100 win, move back into 6th - Tim Reynolds - AP
- Nets aren’t expecting Ben Simmons to return this season - Tim Reynolds - AP
- Mikal Bridges leads Nets to blowout win over Heat - Reuters
- Nets destroy Heat to move back into sixth spot in NBA playoff race - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Ben Simmons’ Nets season likely over following nerve impingement diagnosis - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets ride big third quarter over Heat and into No. 6 playoff spot - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Jacque Vaughn says Ben Simmons’ season is over - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Nets snap losing skid in style by blowing out the Heat in Miami in must-win for playoff seeding - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Nets’ biggest misstep was the Ben Simmons trade - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Nets Injury Tracker: Jacque Vaughn doesn’t expect Ben Simmons to rejoin team this year - Danny Abriano, Alex Smith & Phillip Martinez - SNY
- Takeaways from blowout loss to Nets, as Heat falls back into play-in tournament territory - Frank Jackson - Miami Herald