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Brooklyn Nets roll San Antonio Spurs, 123-103, in post-deadline celebration

Dennis Schröder’s Brooklyn debut could not have gone more swimmingly.

San Antonio Spurs v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Unlike our personal lives, change in the NBA is often planned in the NBA, by the NBA. It’s the result of necessity, mostly welcomed and often even anticipated. Whether it’s the “new voice” cliché when an underperforming team makes a coaching change or an “infusion of energy” at the trade deadline, change is a basketball propellant, not some stifling roadblock.

The Brooklyn Nets entered Saturday's contest against the San Antonio Spurs sitting at 20-31, with seemingly little to get excited about. Except ... they had just swung a couple trades. Nothing major on the surface, just a point-guard swap — the disgruntled Spencer Dinwiddie for Dennis Schröder — and Royce O’Neale out for draft capital and fringe-rotation player in Keita Bates-Diop.

But the vibe-shift can be greater than any advanced (or box-score) stat could account for. You know, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Dinwiddie has long had one foot out the door and O’Neale’s departure may sting, but it could open up playing time for feisty rookie Jalen Wilson. Bates-Diop is an affable locker-room presence. Moreover, Lonnie Walker IV and Dorian Finney-Smith were returning from injury on Saturday. And of course, the San Antonio Spurs entered at 10-42, tied for the third-worst record in the NBA.

The get-right potential for Brooklyn on Saturday night at the Barclays Center was off the charts ... and boy, did they take full advantage of it!!

Dennis Schröder checked into the game midway through the first quarter, and immediately grabbed it by the horns. He’d finish the period with eight points and four assists without missing a shot or turning the ball over...

Brooklyn took a 33-30 lead into the second quarter, and the fun back-and-forth contest became a sizable Brooklyn lead as they really hunkered down on D. Schröder played in some funky, small lineups that co-featured Dennis Smith Jr. and Cam Thomas, and even Finney-Smith at the 5 thanks to Nic Claxton’s early foul trouble.

But they got after it on both ends and forced eight San Antonio turnovers in the first half, converting them into 11 fast-break points among 32 total points in the paint. There were some moments of indecision and lineup peculiarities — Walker did not appear in the first half — but the Nets were the more forceful five. As a reward for their efforts, they took a 60-48 effort into the break.

Everybody played to their strengths. Thomas cooked when necessary and Claxton was anything but intimidated by Victor Wembanayma on the interior...

The aforementioned Wilson made good on his vibes-potential, flying around to grab loose balls and hit catch-and-shoot threes. He’d finish with a modest eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, but his plus-minus of +14 was no accident...

Smith Jr. praised the 23-year-old rookie — “old as hell,” in his words — and his winning mindset. He described Wilson’s attitude toward winning as, “Like, ‘this is what I just want to bring to a team. This what they need me to do to help me win.’ He’s just all about that, he’s a dawg.”

The good vibes would continue in the second half, as Brooklyn survived a brief Wemby flurry in the third quarter before taking over as the period wound down. Claxton escaped foul trouble to throw down dunk after dunk, finishing with a casual 20-point, 11-rebound, two-block line on 10-of-15 shooting.

Then, with 0.4 seconds on the clock, the Nets executed what has to be the highlight of a disappointing year, and perhaps a harbinger for the rest of the season... Schröder to Claxton...

Like the above buzzer-beater, quite a few of those dunks were set up by the man of the hour, Schröder. He delivered everything Brooklyn hoped he would in his debut, serious pressure on the paint and decision-making to boot...

Said Vaughn of his new point guard (perhaps comparing him to his predecessor?):

“He’s a professional ... It’s proven, and we need that with our group, whether it’s the conversation in the huddles, conversation at halftime. It gives us a chance to really be in a position to explain things which is good for our group, for everyone to hear it and feel it and see it again, how we want to play. But he’s won games and played in high-level games. And so for him to be out here on the floor and lead our group tonight, pretty impressive.”

By the end of the third quarter, the German had reached double-double status, ultimately posting 15 points and 12 assists in 27 minutes.

Said Smith Jr. at his halftime interview, “I knew he was going to be a seamless fit, he comes in and we allow him to be himself. There’s no ego and you know, he tryna win some games.”

And why did the Dennis² back-court work so well? “Just being able to break the paint. We got guys trying to break the paint and then we kicking out for the shots instead of just coming down and pulling. That’s just how basketball works, you know? The ball finds some energy, and then we’re gonna make shots.” (It was a very confident halftime interview.)

Really, nobody was surprised at the newcomer’s excellence, citing his experience and obvious talent: “He’s a hooper. I’m not surprised. He knows how to play the game. He has a great feel for the game. Wants to help us guys get better and he did that tonight,” said Simmons.

Brooklyn took a 93-75 lead into the final frame, where they delighted a Barclays Center crowd that had angstily booed their home team in their previous outing(s). Cam Thomas scored some tough buckets to finish as the game’s leading scorer with 25 points. Ben Simmons got in on the action as well, posting a well-rounded 13/3/5/3/2 stat-line on 6-of-7 shooting:

On his performance, Simmons said he’s simply “feeling better. It takes time. It’s one of those things where it’s just up and down each day. But I’m just staying with it. The storm doesn’t last forever. You know, I’m gonna get back to where I was. So just staying on it. And you know, each day is a day to get better.”

Indeed, if the promise of the evening somehow gets the Nets more wins, that line — “the storm doesn’t last forever” — could have legs.

All in all, Wemby made some fun 30-foot heat checks, every available Net got into the game, Dennis Schröder showed out, and, most importantly, it was a comfortable victory for the home team, one that was so needed and the kind that inspires real hope for a stretch run. Behind their new point guard, a healthier bench, and an improved Ben10, the Nets could make the play-in, and then make some real noise. (Pause here to take a deep breath.)

Sure, it was a rout of Western Conference’s worst team, but it was the most fun, inspiring Nets victory in quite some time. Whether you want to look ahead or not, there were a lot of smiles in the Barclays Center on Saturday night, more than there had been in some time. The crowd even serenaded the newest Net with chants...

“I love that the fans did it, you know? Big-time for me,” said Schröder in his post-game, on-court interview with the YES Network’s Meghan Triplett.

See what change can do?

Milestone Watch

A debut that successful? You know we have some milestones to cover, starting with Dennis².

  • Dennis Schroder became the fifth Net to record double-digit dimes in their debut with the franchise. He joins James Harden as the the only one of the bunch to score at least 15 points as well.
  • Dennis Smith Jr.’s 14 points match a season-high.
  • Nic Claxton has now recorded five 20/10 games this season, matching his total from his first four seasons combined.
  • The Nets raced out of the gates in the first quarter, making seven 3-pointers. That is the second-most threes they’ve made in a first quarter this season (eight vs. Utah on 1/29).

Dennis Smith Jr on errant Woj Bomb

Dennis Smith was at home Thursday when Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted out news of the trade that brought Dennis Schröder to Brooklyn. That original tweet had Smith Jr. joining Spencer Dinwiddie in Toronto. It was wrong and it took a little more than a New York minute for Woj to delete the offending tweet and generate a new, accurate one. Smith was asked about his reaction...

Andy Birdsong is one of the Nets two assistant GMs.

Keita Bates-Diop speaks

Before his Nets debut, where he scored two points in four minutes of garbage time, Bates-Diop spoke with the media on trade-deadline craziness, and what he can bring to his new squad:

The 28-year-old is well acquainted with Lonnie Walker IV — the two overlapped for two seasons in San Antonio — and now has a spiritual connection with Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson; all three have been traded from Phoenix to Brooklyn at the deadline within the last year.

Bates-Diop praised Walker’s attitude, as many others have done, and talked about the comfort he felt walking into this new locker room, the positive conversations he’s had with the front office and Jacque Vaughn.

So, what can we expect KBD to bring to Brooklyn? “Versatility, honestly. A lot of us of similar size and build honestly. So that versatility on defense for sure, the switching one-through-five is gonna be big for us, and me individually”

And while the 2018 Big 10 Player of the Year discussed the well-known struggles of moving across the country in the middle of the season, there’s one factor that makes moving to Brooklyn a bit trickier. It’s damn expensive:

Next Up

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

After an extra day off, Brooklyn will face the Boston Celtics in the first game of a home-and-away back-to-back at the Barclays Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday evening.