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Brooklyn Nets forget how to play basketball in Paris, lose 111-102 to Cleveland Cavaliers

That was awful. Horrific. Insert synonyms in French here.

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Portland Trail Blazers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

fPARIS — The Brooklyn Nets’ trip to Paris was everything they hoped it would be. The team got to see the sights of the City of Love, interact with a growing international fanbase, and make memories that will last a lifetime, cliché as it may be:

Taking over a local pizza shop with Brooklyn flare, attending the debut of an orchestral tribute to Notorious B.I.G., the customary team picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, all with smiles on their faces? The midseason excursion was an absolute blast.

And then the game tipped off.

A Brooklyn loss would not have been cause for concern on its own. Annoying, sure, but the Cleveland Cavaliers entered with a 7-3 record in the past 10 games while rostering the undisputed best player on the floor in Donovan Mitchell. The Nets, meanwhile, have been one of the NBA’s worst teams for a month. Two days of practice time to iron out the kinks and have “tough conversations,” according to Cam Johnson, leading to a strong performance during a fantastic bonding experience certainly sounds like the sort of experience that could turn around a season.

Instead, the Nets played like they flew seven hours across the Atlantic Ocean to attend their own funeral. Cleveland came out in a switching defense, a simple tactic that’s been Brooklyn’s kryptonite this season. It broke them.

Countless isolations and dribble-handoffs led to absolutely nothing, other than Mikal Bridges trying and failing to take Jarrett Allen off the dribble. The Cavaliers dictated everything with no repercussions; they were physical off the ball, pushing Brooklyn’s offense closer to half-court than the paint at the start of possessions, then had an easy time containing hopeless drives.

The Nets treated a Parisian crowd staunchly in their favor to the worst offense you’ll ever see from an NBA team. Rather than changing any X’s and O’s, Brooklyn brought Cam Thomas and Lonnie Walker IV in, who at least prevented a historically bad offensive performance.

The two bench guards led Brooklyn in the first half — Thomas with 11, and Walker with 8:

The starting five, though, ranged from unable to incapable. Spencer Dinwiddie, previously questionable with an illness, was invisible. He’d finish with two points on 1-of-3 shooting, playing just four minutes in the second half. Dorian Finney-Smith also exited with an illness, and while he gave effort, none of his teammates could create looks for the 3-and-D wing. Thus, he finished with a goose egg in 14 minutes, taking just one shot.

Vaughn confirmed that each player received IVs before and during the game, so there’s no doubt they were out there laboring.

Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson tried to pick up the slack, to no avail. Bridges had some nice moments after a horrendous first half, including a lefty poster on Allen, but it was too little, too late:

Johnson tried to attack the basket in the first half, but seemingly had to deal with ten Cleveland defenders at all times. His three points and three turnovers on 1-of-7 shooting were harder to watch than it sounds, and his absence in the fourth quarter was a blessing on the eyes. And perhaps a message?

Nic Claxton was fine. Brooklyn switched themselves, and Clax did a decent job containing Mitchell, who nonetheless scored 17 first-half points. But he had to work for them, and Cleveland’s offense was totally reliant on him and Caris LeVert to get straight buckets. The two did, but the offense wasn’t picture perfect.

It was enough to throttle the Nets, though. The Cavaliers led 54-34 after 24 minutes, and the crowd at Accor Arena probably would have filed out if it wasn’t the only NBA game on the continent this season.

Brooklyn was just miserable. Miserable to watch, miserable to root for, and the crowd inadvertently let them know it. No booing of course, but you could hear shoe-squeaking from press row.

Thankfully for the fans, the second half provided some interesting moments. Nic Claxton threw down a gorgeous lob from Cam Thomas, then yelled something that Tristan Thompson took offense to. It led to an ejection for the Cavs big, and riled up the crowd momentarily:

Despite a 26-point deficit through the third quarter, the Nets made it semi-interesting by the end of the fourth. Trendon Watford checked in for a typically feisty 8/4/2 line. Walker and Thomas kept getting straight buckets, combining for 46 points. Thomas tied Bridges for a team-high 26 points, but again, Bridges made a lot of free-throws and meaningless baskets in garbage time, long after he cemented his performance as one to forget.

Bridges, however, doesn’t view the trip as a waste, despite the loss:

“I mean, the second half was a positive for us. I think what hurt was that Portland L before coming here, you know, trying to go on a two-game win streak. But we got better defensively in practice, you know, having a little bit of time to practice. Obviously we gotta be way better, but losing any game hurts.”

The Nets did cut it to seven and trailed 94-87 with just over four minutes to go. But Brooklyn never really threatened to turn one of the NBA’s worst offensive performances of the season into an astonishing win.

The Cavaliers shot just an unimpressive 13-of-44 from deep, but made just enough to maintain a cushion at all times. Some of those makes came off back-breaking offense rebounds, as Claxton’s presence on the perimeter left the Nets small down low, where they struggled to contain Jarrett Allen (12/12/4/2/4).

“I think that’s where you have to find your advantages,” said Cleveland Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “If teams want to play small, if they want to switch and put a small guy on Jarrett, there’s so many different ways that he can beat you.”

While Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen stuck it to their former team, Donovan Mitchell was the star of the night. His 45 points were simply spectacular. Sure, he had seven turnovers, but aside from bursts of LeVert, D-Mitch did everything for a Cavaliers team down Darius Garland, and treated Paris to a show. Here’s how he responded to Brooklyn’s late run:

Mitchell wiped out every semblance of hope the Nets created down the stretch, and reminded them that the cure to an uneven performance is often having the baddest dude on the hardwood. As if Brooklyn needed another one.

Said Vaughn: “We did some really good things in the second half, but his ability to just put that ball in the hole is a difference maker.”

It just sucked. It sucked from the opening tip, so much so that the second half was kind of enjoyable. The first half contained enough misery and rage for a season of bad basketball, enough to dissociate and view the final 24 minutes as an incredulous dissociated observer.

Tristan Thompson, the oldest 32-year-old in NBA history, squaring off with Clax after a dunk? Sure, that’s pretty funny. And hey, Cam Thomas and Lonnie Walker can at least make losing look fun. We deserve something, right?

But some gallows humor couldn’t remove the stench that Brooklyn brought to Paris, and streamed live to their fans back home.

Prior to the game, I asked Vaughn about Brooklyn’s consistent efforts to establish an international presence. Specifically, what role the on-court product plays since, hey, the basketball has to be fun, right?

“I think it’s a partnership for ownership to introduce our brand of basketball, our brand to Europe and the rest of the world. And it’s on us to perform as well. I’ve seen plenty of fans here which is pretty cool. I think that can grow and part of that starts with having an attractive product and attractive group on the floor, which we do have. And so hopefully, we get a chance to perform tonight.”

Vaughn gave a standard answer, and this putrid loss won’t weigh on him in terms of Brooklyn’s presence in Europe, but rather his team’s season now spiraling toward the dumpster.

But that’s what the Nets had to show the world? Yuck.

Final Score: Cleveland Cavaliers 111, Brooklyn Nets 102.

Milestone Watch

Just one lowly milestone for Thursday’s loss, other than scoring points on French soil for the first time.

  • Nic Claxton scored 13 points and 11 boards, his fourth straight game with a double-double. That ties the longest streak of his career; he’s now double-doubled in seven of his last eight games.

Changes to the NBA draft

Barclays Center will see an expanded NBA Draft in 2024. No, not the number of selections, but the amount of time.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA “is finalizing plans to turn the 2024 draft into a two-night event,” with the first round held on June 26, and the second round held on June 27.

One reason he gives for the potential change — other than the implied benefits of more sweet, sweet TV money — goes as follows: “Teams have been frustrated with the chaotic speed of the second round and believe there could be more order in the process with a day between the picks.”

If you’ve been craving a chance to attend the NBA Draft at the Barclays Center, you’ll now have two chances to do so.

Next Up

Miami Heat v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Tune in if you dare. The Brooklyn Nets return to the states, and will face the Miami Heat on Tuesday, January 15. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET from the Barclays Center.