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Nets Takeaways From A Rousing Comeback Victory In Philly
I’d bet that upon their first peak at the Nets’ schedule, with the first two games slated for the road at Eastern Conference rivals Milwaukee and Philadelphia, most fans muttered to themselves, “I’ll take a split.”
A split is exactly what they got after Brooklyn roared back from a late 10-point deficit to overtake Philly, 114-109, on Friday night.
The closing 16-1 run made for a rousing and sweet victory, but in the grand scheme of things, if you didn’t make too much of Brooklyn’s 127-104 trouncing at the hands of the Bucks in the season opener on Tuesday, it’s only fair to consider this one just another game as well.
Still, there was much more to like from a Nets perspective, from their compete level (after another abominable first quarter—time to scrap that starting lineup) to their astounding Basketball IQ, even if Nets Head Coach Steve Nash noted that the team wasn’t going to “bottle up and put (this win) in a museum.”
Here are my three takeaways from the Nets’ first victory of many this season:
1) Fortunately, Kevin Durant showed up on time, because the other starters didn’t
The Nets would have been headed for another blowout loss if not for the spectacular all-around game from their best player. While his teammates were struggling early for a second consecutive game, KD was doing it all—on both ends. Scoring, rebounding, dishing, blocking shots, hustle plays—whatever was needed, Durant delivered to keep Brooklyn from being run out of the gym..
As mentioned above, the concern is that Nash had to know that the group that started the game alongside Durant, with center Nicolas Claxton again out of his comfort zone, chasing a wing on the defensive perimeter while not threatening Sixers center Joel Embiid on the other end, allowing him to camp out in the paint and protect the rim, never stood a chance. The Sixers, with all their floor spacers, had the freedom to fire away from long range with impunity, and they capitalized by knocking down 6-of-their-9 three-point attempts in the first quarter to jump out to a double-digit lead.
Durant, who recorded a triple-double by the third quarter, took more of a back seat in the game-deciding run, but he did come away with the rebounds on back-to-back air-balled three-pointers by Danny Green, who temporarily made Sixers fans forget that Ben Simmons was Enemy No. 1 in town.
2) Long-time teammates reunite to provide a spark
Center LaMarcus Aldridge and guard Patty Mills played together for two seasons in Portland and later six seasons in San Antonio before both free agents decided this summer to call Brooklyn home. If either one chose a different destination, the Nets don’t win on Friday.
Mills extended his three-point streak to 10 consecutive makes to start the season with another three quick-release bombs, but I came away more impressed with the fire with which he played on both ends. His energy was infectious and his intelligence, which allows him to play much bigger than his listed six-foot frame, is off the charts. The streaking layup past Embiid in transition to get Brooklyn within two points with about two minutes remaining was a master class in how to use your toolkit to press the advantage. When Nash mentioned to the assembled media after the game about his team being “relentless in our competition,” Mills was exactly that personified.
As for Aldridge, who poured in 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, how can you not feel warm inside after what he went through last season, when a heart condition after playing five games for Brooklyn forced him to announce his retirement?
Aldridge made a mockery of basketball analytics, converting on 10-of-12 field goal attempts, including 6-of-7 in the dreaded mid-range areas. As Nash said, against a good defense, “you can’t pass (open mid-range shots) up because our mathematicians are going to yell at us after the game.”
Equally important, Aldridge also supplied the toughness under the basket that is required for the Nets to compete at the highest levels, with an and-1 and an offensive rebound putback in crunch time in addition to bringing physicality when matched up with Embiid or Andre Drummond on the defensive end.
Mills and Aldridge both came off the bench on Friday, so credit Nash with trusting those two, plus reserve Jevon Carter, down the stretch when the starters didn’t have it.
3) Joe Harris in slow motion
The Nets’ three-point king was never the quickest man on the court, but at the start of this season, he looks like he’s moving in quicksand.
Harris is still converting 40% of his three-pointers through two games, but he’s just 2-for-8 on 2s, including 1-of-5 in the restricted area. Three of them have been stuffed back in Harris’ face.
His nice development story was always amplified by how he learned to attack hard closeouts, from gaining the step on the defender all the way through to finishing at the basket in a variety of ways despite a somewhat robotic pace on his forays. This season, though, I haven’t seen that little bounce in his step that used to propel him to the rim.
The Nets were playing against two of the league’s elite defenses, both of whom know Harris all too well from past playoff encounters, so maybe we’ll see the extraordinary Joe when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte in its home opener on Sunday.