Inexcusable Nets Loss Attributable To The Mind, Not Tired Bodies
A little more than three minutes into Thursday night’s trap home game against the lowly Pistons, Nets wing Royce O’Neale inexplicably fouled Detroit rookie guard Jaden Ivey while contesting a heave from the midcourt line as the shot clock neared zero. Sure, Ivey may have gotten away with kicking his legs out, but what was O’Neale doing so close to him anyway?
I knew then that this wasn’t going to be easy pickings for a Nets squad that really needed a win the night after a terrific effort in a 137-133 loss at Philadelphia in the conclusion of Brooklyn’s five-game road trip, all without superstar Kevin Durant.
Sure enough, the Nets not only played down to Detroit’s level, they played worse. Their 130-122 defeat was a just outcome for a team that was outworked and outexecuted for much of the night.
Those who wish to excuse the performance as due to the back-to-back, they should have listened to YES studio host Frank Isola on the postgame show. Isola correctly pointed out that guard Kyrie Irving and center Nic Claxton, the two players who logged the most minutes against the Sixers, were perhaps the only players who looked like they showed up ready to compete against the Pistons. Ok, I’ll throw in reserve guard Edmond Sumner as well, since he posted a career-high 24 points on 7-for-10 shooting in 19 minutes.
Pretty much everyone else, though, looked slow and lethargic. Ben Simmons appeared to be moving in slow motion as loose balls within a short distance of his grasp were snatched away by Detroit’s hustlers. On Brooklyn’s opening possession, his hook shot from inside the paint traveled a little more than half the necessary distance to the rim, the first of his three misses without a make on the night. Simmons’ defense, the least he could do when he’s not being aggressive to score, was laissez-faire as well, with his hands down as his assignments made shots over him until he begged out of the game in the third quarter due to knee soreness.
If only Simmons was the sole guilty party. Like Simmons, forward T.J. Warren was expected to be a key contributor in stepping up during KD’s recovery, yet after a promising return to action from a nearly two-year absence due to foot surgeries (10.8 points per game on 52.5/35/81.5 shooting splits in 19 games through January 17), he has misfired on 15 of his last 22 field goal attempts over the last five games. The Pistons sport the second-worst defensive efficiency in the league; Warren, as a so-called walking bucket, should have had a field day, not go 1-for-5 from the floor before he too was forced to exit the contest with a knee injury.
None of Simmons, Warren, or wing Joe Harris were overly taxed the previous night in Philadelphia, yet they combined to go 4-for-17 from the floor, including 1-for-6 on three-pointers while playing substandard defense against Detroit. Harris continues to be targeted by opposing ballhandlers looking to get him switched onto them. There was one play where I thought I saw Detroit wing Saddiq Bey smiling as he backed down Harris onto the block before easily scoring.
Earlier in the road trip, I was concerned when the Nets chased a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit in Phoenix knowing that the high altitude in Utah, where the Nets hadn’t won since 2016, was on deck in a back-to-back the following night. Though Brooklyn almost came all the way back to shock the Suns, I was pretty sure it wasn’t worth it.
Of course, I was proven wrong, as Brooklyn used the lessons learned (and Irving’s rekindling of his jump shot) from that fourth quarter to not only beat the Jazz, but they also followed it up with an upset at defending champion Golden State in their third game in four nights.
Those games should have proven to them that rough schedules can be managed, even without load management. It also means that Thursday’s unconscionable loss was more of the mind, not the body.
When the final buzzer sounded in Philadelphia, I chalked it up as one loss to out of 82 games, even if the frontrunning fans in Philadelphia wanted to make it like it was a playoff contest. In the grand scheme, it had little meaning.
Losing to a tanking team, on top of the defeats to the lousy Spurs and the Devin Booker/Chris Paul-less Suns last week, brings out my bitterness. It’s inexcusable. The Nets simply can’t afford these lackluster efforts, not with Durant out with his sprained MCL for at least the next two weeks (despite the Nets’ announced injury update on Tuesday, I’d be shocked if he returns before the mid-February All-Star break).
As much as the organization, including Head Coach Jacque Vaughn and the players, doesn’t want to look back at what happened last season when KD missed 21 games with a different knee injury, the danger of a reprisal is in plain sight. These are the type of efforts that can start a quicksand effect that resulted in 12 consecutive losses in last season’s 5-16 slump.
In this stretch, Brooklyn has so far gone 2-6 without their transformational star. At least the Nets’ next three games, hosting the Knicks and Lakers before traveling to Boston, with a rest day in between each of them. shouldn’t be hard to get up for.