We are back!
It may have been naive to think that after just two wins, two measly wins that would have followed a 3-14 stretch. Two games are about two percent of the schedule, but certainly, some Brooklyn Nets fans were feeling a little back on Sunday evening. Back to the ball-sharing, 3-point-making team that started the year so promisingly. Back to fun.
Just before sundown, they held a 114-103 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers, and were fixing to notch a pair of wins in L.A. before, well, you know. Twenty-two to nothing. Just another loss, wearing a fancy hat.
Certainly, Nets fans would be more judicious this time around in a battle at the Barclays Center with the New York Knicks. Then again, that doesn’t sound like Nets-Knicks, does it? I mean Tyra Banks was sandwiched between two furries court-side:
NBA Rivalry Week is no time for reason, though the two teams poured water on much of the excitement early on.
There were individual flurries that ignited the crowd in the first half. The struggling Cam Johnson dropped 11 of his 19 points in a first-quarter whirl that got the crowd going. The Villanova storyline delivered as well, with Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges leading their squads with 18 and 15 in the first half, respectively.
While Dorian Finney-Smith did an admirable job on Julius Randle, the Knicks’ other lefty star herked and jerked his way against a number of switches, even turning Nic Claxton into mincemeat with a hook shot over the seven-footer.
Bridges’ buckets were more traditional; in fact, multiple corner threes had to remind a national-television audience of his days as a Phoenix Sun:
But for all of that individual excellence, neither team quite mimicked the ‘96 Bulls. The Manhattanites took a 50-49 lead into halftime; the teams shot a putrid 10-of-32 from three, combining for just 31% accuracy from deep. Thanks to Brunson’s in-between excellence, the Knicks’ offense was slightly more effective, but Brooklyn stayed in it thanks to second-opportunities.
On his way to a career-high 17 rebounds, Nic Claxton grabbed six of Brooklyn’s 13 o-boards, and those efforts saved a putrid Brooklyn offense in the first half.
Yet, there were hardly misses to grab in the second half, as everybody got in on the fun. Brooklyn shot 6-of-7 from deep in the third quarter, led by the Twins. Johnson scored a quick eight, but Bridges was star, exploding for 14 of his game-high 36 points in the period.
It wasn’t ball-pounding, mid-range hunting Bridges either, but rather an energized version of the Nets’ leading man that ran around off the ball and found spots on the arc to fire from:
off-ball moving, 3-point shooting Mikal Bridges is the best Mikal Bridges: pic.twitter.com/M2KVdsBDGy— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 24, 2024
He’d finish 7-of-13 from deep, his most makes in a game in his NBA career.
Cam Thomas (6-of-11, 14 points) and Lonnie Walker IV (five points) kept the good vibes going when the starters subbed out, battling OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa among New York’s reserves. It all added up to a 95-88 lead for Brooklyn as Bridges, Brunson, the main characters started to file back in. Dare Nets fans believe again?
Brooklyn, who entered sporting the worst fourth-quarter net rating in the league over this 20-game stretch where a 4-16 record has throttled their season, did it again. They lost the period 32-18, with countless shots and plays they’d want back.
Spencer Dinwiddie, who returned to the shadows after a strong West Coast trip (0/0/4 stat-line) simply couldn’t close the game, so Dennis Smith Jr. (8/5/5) did. DSJ played well in his 29 minutes, but couldn’t help a middling half-court offense with his lack of shooting.
Jacque Vaughn says he considered closing with Cam Thomas over Smith, but past results gave him hesitation: “The last time we played these guys, we tried Cam Thomas at the 1, and I didn’t like the returns on it. I do like having another ball-handler out there with Cam...I’ve tried Cam Thomas at the 1, I would love for him to be able to do that. That would give him more minutes on the floor.”
Brooklyn also gave up five offensive boards to the Knicks in the final frame, all of them agonizing. If they weren’t going to score, which they seemingly can’t in crunch-time, the Nets had to be perfect on the other end. They weren’t.
“If I was to point to one thing, it was [five] offensive rebounds that they had in the fourth. I think that was the biggest thing for me,” said Vaughn. “Their ability to get second chance points puts more pressure on you to deliver on the other end. I thought overall, the shots that we did get, were shots that we made throughout the course of the night. Unfortunately, we went on a little cold streak in the fourth.”
And yet, the Nets still had a chance, somehow. Despite scoring just six points in the final five minutes of action Mostly thanks to the — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — strong three-and-a-half quarters they played before. But when it rains, it pours, and this Julius Randle dunk that capped off a wild back-and-forth sequence was a inextricable dagger in Brooklyn’s side:
What an absurd sequence, too much to describe but it ends with a Julius Randle dunk. Knicks in control: pic.twitter.com/eQGosRuwGO— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 24, 2024
From there, Dorian Finney-Smith (2-of-10, five points) missed an open pick-and-pop three, and after some foul-finagling, the Nets had one final chance to send it to OT. The ball ended up in Cam Johnson’s hands and...wide left:
Nets lose. OG Anunoby takes a terrible gamble, Josh Hart can't commit the intentional foul, but Cam Johnson misses the game-tying three. pic.twitter.com/XY6XBrnEx1— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 24, 2024
While Johnson bitterly acknowledged another clutch miss, he also said, “I think the main thing is we can’t keep changing the way we play. We’re changing the way we play in the fourth quarter, and we need to stick with what got us there. That’s what we’re straying away from.”
To make matters worse, the sellout — a crowd of 17,732 — was probably the most lop-sided New York fan advantage in the Nets’ Brooklyn era.
“It felt like an away game when they made their run,” said Mikal Bridges. “It’s not fun when you feel like you’re in an away game at home. That’s for any person sitting in here, any person alive; it’s not fun.”
Yes, we are indeed back. Just, not back to what we’d hoped.
Final Score: New York Knicks 108, Brooklyn Nets 103
Injury Updates for Sharpe and Simmons
Prior to the loss, Vaughn shared updates for Day’Ron Sharpe and Ben Simmons, neither of whom seem to be returning imminently.
Sharpe — who hyperextended his left knee on January 7 and has been sidelined since — spoke at the morning’s shootaround, where he told reporters he’s been feeling able, although only able to do conditioning and lift weights.
Vaughn confirmed the big man’s current routine in his full comments on Sharpe pregame: “I missed hearing him, being around him. You know, [Sharpe] is really limited on the court right now, shooting free-throws, dribbling the basketball, no other players around him. No setbacks though, which is good. So he said he had been feeling the best since the injury, which was good to hear. So hopefully he just continues to improve because we do miss him.”
The Nets are also missing Ben Simmons, who last played in the team’s November 6 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Simmons is progressing from a nerve impingement in his lower left back, but isn’t ready to return to full blown five-on-five just yet.
“I can tell you he will not play this week” said Vaughn of his highest-paid player, ruling him out for at least the next two games.
Brooklyn’s head coach also added, “at some point I think we’ll use Long Island hopefully to get a practice underneath him, or get some more bodies around him. Hopefully that’s in the near future. But no setbacks and he did workout today. He’ll get another one with more bodies either tomorrow or the day after that.”
At least one person — Bernie Lee, Simmons’ agent — is confident the Aussie’s looming return will be a great boon for the squad:
* he’s going to fix their issues. https://t.co/AuGR8F74pf— Bernard Lee (@BernieoLee) January 22, 2024
Jacque Vaughn on coaching continuity
Prior to the game, Jacque Vaughn — and Tom Thibodeau— were asked about the Bucks firing Adrian Griffin earlier in the day ... despite having the third best record in the league. Unlike Thibs who said the dismissal of Griffin was “unfortunate,” and “the sad part of the business,” Vaughn spoke about the value of continuity in the coaching ranks.
“You see the franchises in this league who have over and over been able to be great franchises and a big part of that is continuity,” Vaughn said. “So whether that’s the Spurs, whether that’s the Heat, whether that’s been Utah, historically, there’s something to continuity. I don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s household. I always worry about my house and how tight and orient it needs to be, so I’ll just leave it at that. But there’s something to continuity in this league and that’s why those three franchises have been pretty good for a long time.”
Bridges, Johnson under Olympics Consideration
Today, USA Basketball announced a rather deep pool of 41 finalists that will be whittled down to 12 for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Shams Charania shared the list in full:
USA Basketball player pool of 41 finalists that will be used to select the 12-player roster for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris: pic.twitter.com/Bs1yqnQDQD— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 23, 2024
Both Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson — each of whom appeared for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup in 2023 — made the list.
“It’s just a big honor,” said Johnson. “I learned a lot in that FIBA experience last summer, and so I’m appreciative of it.”
The road doesn’t get any easier. The Western Conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves come to town, albeit on the second half of a back-to-back. Tip-off is scheduled for Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET from the Barclays Center.
- Box Score: New York Knicks 108, Brooklyn Nets 103 - NBA
- Game Highlights: New York Knicks 108, Brooklyn Nets 103 (Video) - NBA
- Final 3:54 EXCITING ENDING Knicks vs Nets (Video) - NBA
- Brunson and Randle power Knicks to 4th straight win, 108-103 over the Nets - AP
- Julius Randle helps Knicks rally past Nets - Larry Fleisher - Field Level Media
- Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle propel Knicks to tight win over Nets - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Julius Randle’s ‘tunnel vision,’ emphatic slam fuel Knicks’ turnaround in win - Stefan Bondy - New York Post
- New York is fully a Knicks town once again - Mike Vaccaro - New York Post
- Ben Simmons still has a way to go before making Nets return - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Mikal Bridges scores game-high 36 points but Knicks roar back in 4th quarter to top Nets ($) - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- Nets’ Day’Ron Sharpe still has hurdles to clear before returning from knee injury ($) - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- Without both starting centers, Knicks hand Nets 17th loss in last 22 games as Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle combine for 60 - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Nets Notebook: Jacque Vaughn, Tom Thibodeau share thoughts on Bucks’ firing of Adrian Griffin - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle help Knicks grab late lead and hold off Nets - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Nets’ Day’Ron Sharpe feels good, but for now continues rehab on injured knee - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Giving away anything — much less a game — is not in Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s DNA - Steve Popper - Newsday