Much better this time.
Brooklyn faced an undermanned opponent for the second straight night after Tuesday’s embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Toronto Raptors were without All-Stars Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, last year’s Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, and Otto Porter Jr., Precious Achiuwa and Dalano Banton.
After a poor first half, the Nets took care of business convincingly, winning 112-98 for the team’s ninth win of the season. Brooklyn now sits at 9-10.
Despite a quiet first half, Kyrie Irving went absolutely nuclear in the second, scoring 29 points on 11-of-16 shots and 5-of-8-of-three. Of his total points, 26 came in the second half, the third-best half he had as a net.
“Just play in the flow,” Kyrie said of his approach. “I just wait for opportunities and let the game come to me. And just trust that we would just do the right basketball games for each other.
Ben Simmons had another promising performance, recording 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and six assists. His defense was as good as it looked when Net fanned out Toronto’s ball handlers — Gary Trent Jr. and Malachi Flynn — for three steals and two blocks.
“As you can see, Ben is just getting better physically, which helps us,” explained Jacque Vaughn. “For him to go coast to coast and get easy baskets for us, pick up the pace so we get open shots for everyone else and they learn how to play with him and play at his pace.”
Kevin Durant, meanwhile, had a quiet game by his standards with 12 points but overtook Kevin Garnett’s 26,071 points to rank 18th on the all-time leaderboard. Next up for Durant is John Havlicek with 26,395 points. And despite that underperformance, KD led the nets with a +30 rating.
“I mean, we know what Kev is capable of,” Kyrie Irving said. “Some nights will look like that for us, but I wouldn’t count on it being consistent. He’ll do his thing out there when it comes to points. But he was impressive in other ways tonight.” Three blocked shots, plus-minus 30. Only 12 points, 5-for-10. I mean I’ll take it. And the victory.”
All five Brooklyn starters scored double digits. Nic Claxton recorded his sixth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Royce O’Neale hit a season-best five 3-pointers for 15 points. Brooklyn also tallyed 32 assists from 45 field goals, the fourth straight game the team has surpassed 30 assists.
Central defense was a major strength for the Nets, especially in the second half when Brooklyn — the league leader in rejections — totaled 11 blocks against the two Raptors.
“You didn’t see that many collapses at the end of games tonight, the level of focus,” Jacque Vaughn said after the game. “So a big part of that is holding each other up to a higher standard. I thought from the beginning of the game, you can see that: talk to each other a lot more, communicate a lot more, challenge each other a lot more, which was also great to see.”
They also limited outside shooting opportunities, keeping Toronto at 24.1% shooting with just 29 looks from deep. The Nets, on the other hand, couldn’t miss, shooting 54.9% from the field and 44.7% from three.
Brooklyn’s frontcourt was impressive from the jump. Simmons continued his strong play with four early points and a steal and was one of the main reasons the Nets scored six early fast break points. Claxton was just as powerful, masterfully patrolling his way to six points, three rebounds and two blocks. Their Nets built an early 21-12 lead before the six-minute mark.
Brooklyn retained that advantage until Cam Thomas checked in at the end of the quarter. Thomas came on the board with four quick points and an assist, but then gave up a turn three by helping from the strong side. That’s the yin and yang of relying on young players. Brooklyn finished 38-26 ahead to finish the first.
Toronto started the second quarter on a 13-0 run as Gary Trent Jr. started to get it going. Offensive rebounds continued to be a problem for the Nets after the brutal night in Philadelphia, with the Raptors hitting 10 early offensive rebounds in a quarter and a half. So most of the time it was quite a crossroads as neither team could find a rhythm.
Edmond Sumner checked in the second at 5:34 and quickly got on the board with a transition layup while slicing from the weak side, and then scored a pick six thanks to a great point-of-attack defense . That gave the Nets a seven-point lead. Unfortunately, Brooklyn continued to cough up the ball twice (Durant was one of the culprits for one of his five first-half turnovers), and Toronto evened things out. Though Toronto scored just 18% from three goals in the first half, the Raptors were only 52-51 behind Brooklyn after two thirds.
Brooklyn at last started in the third quarter. Kyrie Irving broke his silence with a pull-up two, a three, and a layup on the fastbreak through contact. Behind the increased effort at the beginning of the second half, the Nets went on a 10-0 run.
The Nets continued to pour it out in the third. Kyrie shot left and right and Ben Simmons wreaked havoc on Raptors’ ball handler to rip away two steals.
“So far I’ve felt my best in terms of movement,” Simmons said after the game. “Obviously it’s a tackle and I think my minutes should be shorter but I tried to push myself and I wanted to be out there and help the team win.”
Kevin Durant, meanwhile, ramped up the intensity on defense, battling with multiple shots to the rim for three blocks. Behind the efforts of their three stars, the Nets extended the lead to 91-76 to finish in third place.
Brooklyn also kept defensive intensity high in the fourth quarter. Royce O’Neale swept away two steals and suddenly Brooklyn’s lead grew to 20. The Nets never looked back, crossing the finish line 14 points clear.
The movie room
It’s always fun to watch Kyrie Irving heat.
In the first half he seemed discouraged, passive and disinterested. Many on social media wondered what was going on. It was his third straight game where he appeared completely disinterested in the product on the ground, triggering ball rotations and appearing far off offense. Some wondered Did he want a trade? Had Brooklyn’s punishment of an 8-game suspension left Irving mentally checked out?
Then the third quarter happened. Irving scored 19 points while oscillating perfectly on and off the ball – creating his own shot when needed, pouring in catch-and-shoot threes and attacking the second side. He was almost as impactful in the fourth, dropping 7 points to take his total to 26 in the second half.
The snatch-back dribble was his closest ally, first showing the move in the third quarter on that great stepback three-pointer. He almost crossed poor Chris Boucher into Vancouver.
Later in the third he accelerated the movement, this time inside the three-point line for a patented long two, which he swished with perfection. Thad Young does a better job and contains, but still, only nasty stuff from Kyrie.
When he’s got it going, there’s no one like him.
Markieff Morris defended Simmons’ slow start and explained why he isn’t surprised by what appears to be a sudden change in his teammate’s game.
“Healthy. He finally had his legs under him. He had been out for two years. You wouldn’t give him a chance, you want to criticize him after every damn game…” Morris told the media. “But when a guy doesn’t play for two years – because obviously y’all wouldn’t know because none of you guys played in the NBA he had to get his body right. Contact him every night he plays 30+ minutes, that takes time.”
KD hands over KG. With his 10th point early in the second half, Kevin Durant (12 points) scored his 26,072. Career point, moving past Kevin Garnett (26,071) to 18th on the NBA’s all-time scorer list. Next up: John Havlicek (26,395 points).
The Nets finished with 32 assists, the first time they had 30 or more assists in four straight games since March 1987.
The Nets shot 17 of 38 from a 3-point range, a season-high for brands. The Raptors finished 7 of 29, making it their fewest 3-pointers of the season.
YES Network upset with Kyrie Irving?
SNY’s Ian Begley received a major exclusive interview with Kyrie Irving last weekend in which he apologized deeply for the harm he had caused Jewish people by posting a link to an anti-Semitic video. It was a major win for the veteran NBA reporter and his network.
So one has to wonder why YES Network, the rights holder of Nets TV – and rival to SNY – didn’t get the interview. Now the Post’s Brian Lewis and Josh Kosman are claiming that YES wasn’t happy with Irving’s choice.
Kyrie Irving’s decision not to interview YES – the Nets’ rights holder – before the Brooklyn star was reinstated frustrated some on the network, sources close to the situation said.
Going to a direct competitor was just salt in the wound…
The decision to go to a direct competitor upset several YES employees, a source told The Post. The dismay was not believed to have reached senior management.
Lewis and Kosman report that Begley’s interview did not come about over the networks and note that Richard Jefferson, part of the YES Network crew, publicly criticized Irving’s decision. Among the unanswered questions: Did YES ask for an interview? Did Irving answer?
NetsDaily tried to get YES to comment on the story, but there was no immediate response.
Brooklyn travels to Indiana for a game on Friday after dividing the season series 1-1 earlier in the season. Coverage begins on YES Network at 8:00 p.m. EST.
For a different perspective on today’s game, head over to Raptors HQ, our Raptors sister site.