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3 Takeaways from Brooklyn Nets shaky win over Houston Rockets

A second look at Nets close call with the Rockets Saturday night in Brooklyn.

Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

An overcooked steak, an omelette with some shell in it, or a bowl of cold soup — none of these meals are ideal, but when you’re hungry, you’d scarf any of them down without taking a breath. That’s what the win-starved Brooklyn Nets did last night, avoiding another late-game collapse to escape with a 106-104 victory over the Houston Rockets.

After leading by double-digits for the game’s majority, Brooklyn’s ship started to sink early in the fourth quarter. A series of self-induced wounds and Houston’s uptick in aggression flooded their deck as time ticked away.

But rather than searching for and plugging up any holes, the Nets let their vessel slowly go down just before sneaking away with a win before it fully submerged. Jack Sparrow’s introduction in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is a good visual representation.

As everyone says though, a win is a win, and this one could resemble a turning point for the team with Ben Simmons on track to return this coming week. There’s zero evidence supporting the idea that the Nets can rely on Ben10 to put their season back on track ... at least not now. But with the team getting back an impactful player on paper, an array of home games on the horizon, and a win to build off of, the frame work for a shift is there. But before we get too ahead of ourselves and inevitably disappointed, here’s three takeaways from the Houston game.

More Hack-a-Clax Could be Coming

Nic Claxton came into last night’s contest shooting 57.4 percent from the free throw line. That’s no figure to throw a parade over, but represents a +3.3 percent increase from the year before. Rockets head coach Ime Udoka still opted to roll with the Hack-a-Clax strategy in the mid-to-late fourth quarter. The gamble ultimately paid off.

After sending Brooklyn’s defensive dynamo to the stripe on back-to-back possessions, where he collectively went 0-4, Houston benefitted from a 5-0 burst. Although the Nets collectively struggled from the stripe, leaving unacceptable 15 points there, those misses from Claxton and the subsequent Houston buckets cut things to single digits for the first time since the first quarter.

In this analytics-driven league, I’d bet Will Hardy and any other coach Brooklyn faces this week will have that on their scouting reports.

Up until this point, Claxton’s performed well-enough to avoid consistent Shaquille O’Neal-like shooting treatment, but recent evidence supporting it as a successful strategy now exists. All he needs to do is knock ‘em down next time out to put it all to bed, but the point is, teams are more likely than not to challenge at the line in the near future.

How he does will not only impact the team, but also his financial situation, with his contract expiring after this season and with free-throw shooting being something most big-money bigs have covered. Claxton has almost everything else checked off as a mobile, switchable rim protector also with an ability to create his own shot and finish in transition. Much of that was even on display tonight, as he shut down Alperen Sengun and even yammed over him a few times.

Where Would This Team be Without Cam Thomas...Part 237

In a bleak midwinter, we’re finally seeing the Nets team we expected at the beginning of the season. That’s not exactly a good team, but one that at least makes sense given their diet of players.

Returning to the switch, Brooklyn’s defense now resembles are far more fortified unit using its versatility along the wing to its advantage. Generating offense on its own is a chore, but forcing stops and getting out in transition makes things easier.

That leaves half-court offense as team’s most glaring issue, but they had a familiar savior in that department last night. Don’t they?

Once again, Cam Thomas carried the Nets for multiple spurts during Saturday’s game. He finished with 37 points while shooting and uber efficient 11-of-19 from the field and 3-fo-6 from deep. He also went 12-of-15 from the charity stripe where increasingly he pitches a tent, and dished out three assists, once again illustrating is growth in passing out of the inevitable doubles that come whenever he gets hot.

There’s more to basketball than putting the ball through the hoop. But at the same time, if you can’t do that, nothing else matters. Nobody’s ever won a game with zero points on the scoreboard.

The way Thomas did that last night and has for multiple stretches this year deserves some appreciation. You’re also allowed to give him that and still think he needs to improve on defense, cut down on turnovers, and widen his court vision.

Perimeter Defense Back to the Mean

Brooklyn held Houston to just 27% from deep last night with the boys from Space City going 10-of-37. Jalen Green and Cam Whitmore largely carried those numbers with Dillon Brooks and known Net-killer Fred VanVleet combining to go just 2-18.

It wasn’t too long ago where the Nets would have been happy to force a team to shoot below 40% from deep, let alone 30%. From December 15th to January 3rd, Brooklyn’s had a paper thin long range defense system, allowing their opponents to shoot 44.2 percent from three while averaging 15.5 makes per game. Both marks were good for the worst in the league during that time span.

With the help of last night, things finally normal again. In Brooklyn’s last 10 games, opponents are shooting 36% from deep and averaging 11.4 makes per game. Those marks rank 11th and ninth best in the league over the contested time frame.

Brooklyn featuring the switch more often to give up less on the drop has certainly played a part in this. There’s also appears to be an emphasis on less over-helping in the gap, which gave wing shooters enough space to set up a couch and then fire away from.

The Rockets are not those teams of old, who broke countless records letting it fly from three. In fact, they’re a middle-pack team at best from deep this year. But those teams and the sharp shooting ones alike were killing the Nets all the same up until about two weeks ago. But the defense has adjusted and the numbers are starting to follow.