Fourth quarters, injuries, and of course opposing teams — a lot of things haven’t been kind to the Brooklyn Nets of late. It’s almost like you could cover a dart board with generic basketball terms, blindfold yourself, and throw at it. No matter what you hit, it’ll be something wrong with this team.
However, one phrase you might not get points for is “team defense.” To their credit, the Nets held the “visiting” New York Knicks to under 115 points tonight, doing so against their opponents for six straight games now. It was also their fifth contest in their last six where they’ve forced their opponents to shoot below 50% from the field as well. The switch appears to be the right call for now. Bravo to Brooklyn figuring that out.
The problem is that none of it resulted in a victory, which is what the Nets need more than anything right now. Brooklyn fell by a 108-103 final score, blowing yet another game down the stretch. Much of it isn’t pretty, but here’s what we learned.
Hello Off-Ball Mikal Bridges
With Mikal Bridges experiencing a down year and the team not getting much from its point guard play, getting him involved more in off-ball sequences felt like a wise route to take given his upbringings as a catch-and-shot player in Phoenix. It wasn’t until tonight, primarily in the third quarter, where the Nets sought that out.
By my count, Bridges got 22 of his 36 points working off the ball rather than in isolation or navigating the pick-and-roll as a ball-handler. Credit to Dorian Finney-Smith, who even amidst a rough shooting night, found the curling and cutting Bridges often by assisting on five makes for Bridges.
This strategy helped Mikal come through with his second best game in almost two months, as he tallied 30+ points while shooting above 50% from the field for only the second time since the first week of December (44 PTS, 57.5% vs POR on 1/7). In getting to his 36/5/5 game tonight, he also went 7-13 from deep, notching a career-high in triples made.
It didn’t result in a win, but none of that was Bridges’ fault. One could even argue the Nets keeping him on the bench for too long to begin the fourth contributed to this fumbled victory more than anything. But if there’s a silver-lining to take here, its that the team may have finally realized this cure for his shooting plague.
Dinwiddie Renaissance was Short-Lived
After three straight single-digit scoring performances and multiple fourth quarter benchings, doubt pertaining to Spencer Dinwiddie’s commitment to the Brooklyn Nets began to swell earlier last week. Either hearing the noise or just wanting to get his team back on the winning track, Dinwiddie responded with three straight solid outings.
During Brooklyn’s road trip out west, the tech guy with a jumper scored more than 15 in each game, averaging 18 points, six assists, and 2.3 rebounds per contest. He also shot a blistering 61.1 percent from deep during the three game stretch.
By all eyes, Spencer was back, until tonight. Against New York, a team he used to relish messing with, Dinwiddie made it far too easy.
Dinwiddie did not score a single point in his 19 minutes played, going 0-of-4 from the field. He dished out four assists and did not play past the eight minute mark in the fourth quarter. It was another outing where he didn’t exactly play bad, but more so didn’t play at all.
I cannot go into Dinwiddie’s mind, but when asked about whether or not sitting during crunch time bothers him, he made it sound like the Nets are more focused on their younger players rather than him and will continue to keep it that way in the future. To his credit, he praised those players on multiple fronts while doing so.
“Oh, no. I mean, we have phenomenal players on this roster,” said Dinwiddie. “We have guys who we’re entrusting the team to going forward, phenomenal human beings, phenomenal talent that we’re gonna build around and they’re gonna build around going forward. What I’ve done in the past, that’s great to talk about, but it’s in the past. Having some of the best clutch seasons of all time, things like that, that stuff’s in the past.”
Dinwiddie is 30 years old, the oldest guy on the roster, and on an expiring deal. When you factor in his words and his play tonight, it feels like this past burst from him was more like “Hi, hello, good to see you, take care” rather than a “I’m back.”
Your Frustration is Warranted
When you keep the aftermath of the Billy King era in perspective, the Nets do not resemble the dumpster fire many perceive them to be right now. Their draft capital and younger complimentary players provide just enough CO2 to keep things extinguished.
However, that does not mean fans don’t have the right to feel frustrated after a night like tonight.
The Nets now sit at 17-26. Since December 11th, they have the third most losses in the league, trailing only the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons. Even though those losses have been stacking for some time, tonight felt different. It felt public. The team couldn’t hide behind the YES Network with this latest embarrassment unfolding during rivalry week and on national television. Watching them in the fourth quarter felt especially like watching Josh Peck’s debut as a weather man on KDJL.
Coming into this year and expecting the Nets to walk into the playoff would’ve been foolish. If you took the over on their wins to start the season, you probably already feel like a clown. However, the collective product this team has put forth is 10x more embarrassing than forking over some cash to FanDuel and prancing around in face paint.
Good players put in bad positions, coaching mishaps, and poor roster construction all stand at the base of this team’s failure. The Nets organization expecting fans to sit and watch this product with smiles on their faces when they were promised years of competitive basketball only a few summers ago is a ludicrous thing to ask as well.
Their past seasons with the stars were like a cruel joke, giving fans that sweet taste of winning just for a few seconds to get them hooked on it, only to then viciously pull it away and shove a piece of burnt toast back in their mouths. Fans have every right to spit it back out even though they should indeed move on from Durant, Irving and the rest.
Dramatic? Sure. But how else would you symbolize losing on your home floor to a “rival,” inviting opposing fans out-cheer your own fans, so much to the point that your franchise player is upset by it, all after blowing your second straight fourth quarter lead, sinking lower into the league standings, and while you don’t even own your draft picks?
I think I may have just broken my record for commas in a sentence, but the gut-punching facts from tonight just go on and on.