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Brooklyn Nets lose sideshow to Cleveland Cavaliers 118-95

The game the Brooklyn Nets played on Thursday was not the main story of the day. Thank goodness for that.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Thursday’s game at the Barclays Center was the sequel to Opening Night.

Way back in late October, the Brooklyn Nets hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers to begin the 2023-’24 season. Both teams were full of hope, with Cleveland adding some much-needed shooting in year two of true contention, and the Nets officially embarking on a new journey.

The Cavaliers won a barn-burner of a game, as Donovan Mitchell hit a last-second three to take a one-point lead. Both teams left with the same hope they entered with. The Nets, despite the loss, played well! They scored efficiently, they ran in transition, Barclays was buzzing, and it was fun. Nobody expected a title from these Nets, just fun.

Four months later, it is anything but. Cleveland has taken off, seizing the two-seed in the Eastern Conference, while Brooklyn has fallen out of the play-in. Their paths did cross in early January, as they matched up in Paris.

Mitchell scored 45 points in a wire-to-wire Cleveland win in France, but Thursday night in Brooklyn was somehow worse. After a semi-competitive first half that the Brooklyn Nets only managed to trail 59-51 when the buzzer sounded, the Cavs blew the doors off the place in the third quarter.

The visitors exited the locker room with a 21-0 run, and even when Mitchell wasn’t scoring the ball, he was a wrecking ball:

Rest assured, he scored the ball too. Mitchell, long-rumored to yearn for a hometown berth in New York City, scored a game-high 27 on 10-of-18 shooting. He even kinda-sorta sniffed a 5x5 game with 27/5/4/3/3.

Said Jacque Vaughn: “Just like in Paris, Mitchell started off pretty aggressive and really getting going early kind of set the tone.”

But every Cavalier played their game. Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley each posted 14-point double-doubles with two blocks. Darius Garland scored 14 too, and led all players with seven assists on 6-of-10 shooting. Off the bench, Dean Wade, Sam Merrill, and Georges Niang all hit three 3-pointers. Everybody contributed to the 90-69 the visitors took to the fourth quarter, a dozen ticks of garbage time.

“They just came out and put their foot down and really were aggressive,” Vaughn said. “Whether that was on both ends of the floor, putting their hands on us, good lessons for us to learn how we need to play on a nightly basis. Especially against a high quality team like the Cavs.”

The Nets were simply mincemeat. Mikal Bridges played 35 minutes, scoring 26 points and recorded five assists on 10-of-23 from the floor. Again, Bridges made five triples. Really, he didn’t perform too poorly for carrying an unbelievable load on offense, the sometime 3-and-D wing carrying a lineup that at one point featured Dennis Smith Jr., Trendon Watford, Nic Claxton, and Jalen Wilson.

Wilson, along with fellow rookie Noah Clowney, was Brooklyn’s designated bright spot. In his first career start, the 23-year-old put up a pedestrian 8/3/2 line in a whopping 40 minutes, but more importantly, looked like an NBA player. He competed on defense, he hit open 3-pointers, and even finished with the best +/- of the five starters, if you’re into that sort of thing...

Meanwhile, Clowney did lose his shoe twice, but showed considerable defensive versatility when he had all ten toes covered. He switched onto Cleveland’s guards, and while Garland welcomed him to the NBA a couple times, Clowney more than held his own switching onto the perimeter...

The Alabama product posted 8-and-4 in 23 minutes off the bench, but again, looked like an NBA player, quite the feat given his age of 19 years, and how raw of a prospect he was entering training camp.

Said Vaughn: “[Clowney] is a guy that really takes information and is able to apply it like immediately, and he thinks about it and so extremely pleased the way he played, the way he responded, the way he was able to be locked in and deliver in timeouts and execute on the floor.”

Bridges added to the praise for his pair of rookies: “I think today, they did a great job of being in the right position and understanding what we’re doing defensively and offensively. So credit to those guys. They played hard, and they’re doing the right thing. I’ll say they did a couple of things to mess up, but that’s just part of it. We all mess up.”

The rest of the game featured little to write home about. Cam Thomas shot 6-of-18, nothing to look into considering the load on his shoulders. It was also his third straight bad shooting night.Nic Claxton let go of the rope as well, shooting 3-of-10 and only blocking one shot. Ben Simmons did score six points on 3-of-4, but somehow, this grown-man take to the rim wasn’t his most exciting moment of the night...

Rather, it was his scuffle with Jarrett Allen that ignited the Barclays Center crowd, who spent the rest of the second half booing the Nets for the first time this season. Prior to Cleveland’s 21-0 run, Simmons and Allen were tangled up following a rebound, and well, here’s how that ended...

Double-techs ensured, the game moved on, and the Cavs were allowed to continue their massacre of an already-depleted Nets roster. Luckily, reinforcements are on the way.

Final Score: Cleveland Cavaliers 118, Brooklyn Nets 95

Injury Update

Before Brooklyn’s shellacking, Jacque Vaughn provided a short-term injury update, as the Nets were down four rotation players even before making any trades. While Dorian Finney-Smith and Cam Johnson will remain out for Saturday’s contest, “Lonnie has the ability to possibly play on Saturday,” according to Vaughn. Expect the backup guard to be listed as questionable on the initial injury report.

Vaughn also spoke about Day’Ron Sharpe’s recovery from a hyper-extended left knee, which has now kept the backup big out for over a month: “Yeah. no bodies still around him. He’s been more 1-on-1 with a coach, able to get up and down a little more since the last time I’ve updated you guys. He is definitely out for Saturday as well. and [we’ll] see what he looks like going toward next week before the break.”

Jacque Vaughn says farewell to Spencer Dinwiddie

Now this is worth noting. When Vaughn spoke pregame, only the Dinwiddie-to-Toronto deal had been officially completed. Thus, the Brooklyn head coach could only welcome Dennis Schröder to town, which he did with the coaching platitudes you’d expect.

Vaughn could also say farewell to Spencer Dinwiddie, who he had coached for the entirety of his stints (plural) in Brooklyn. He was asked about his relationship with the two-time ex-Net, and here was the garrulous Vaughn’s response in full:

“Well, I want everyone to have success in this league, and so I appreciate Spencer for being a part of our group and want nothing but success for him moving forward.”

The response was short, but it spoke volumes.

Sean Marks, Dennis Schröder speak

The Suns-Nets-Grizzlies three-teamer that sent Royce O’Neale out West was officially completed during the first half, and thus, Sean Marks spoke to the media at the break. We have the full story, and many of his quotes, here.

Following the game, Dennis Schröder held his introductory presser as part of the postgame festivities. Of the mid-season move, he said, “having a family, having three kids, a wife, it’s not easy. But at the end of the day, nothing really changed. Of course, I go to a new city, new situation; but at the end of the day, we play basketball for a living and really extremely grateful for it. And can’t wait to get to know everybody in the locker room, front office, everybody who is in this organization and get to work.”

The German’s emphasis was on winning, doing whatever it takes, much of the standard intro presser stuff. Still, he spoke genuinely about his competitive nature: “I just want to win, you know, and having that mentality of doing it as a team. Having a leader out there and just talking to teammates, even if it’s a bad situation. I mean, I’m always trying to be straightforward with guys and I want people to be the same way with me. If they see anything, what I can do better, just call it out, and then we go from there. That’s how I’ve been my whole career, and it’s just for great intentions, just for winning basketball, and that’s what I try to bring in.”

Next Up

San Antonio Spurs v Orlando Magic Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

He looms.

The Brooklyn Nets will face off against Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs on game four of a five-game home-stand on Saturday night. Tip-off is early, scheduled for 6:00 p.m. ET from the Barclays Center.