Right when you think you’ve got a handle on the Brooklyn Nets, they zip when they should’ve zagged. Just when you think you can tally down 20 points and a handful of rebounds for Brook Lopez, he does this. Listen, no matter how much you think the All-Star, Hall of Fame-worthy trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love are going to drop 130 points, sometimes they don’t even reach 50 combined — OK, I didn’t fool you at all, did I?
On the second night of a back-to-back versus the defending champions on a full day’s rest, the expectations for the floundering Nets could not have possibly been lower. And with a team option for Spencer Dinwiddie to decide upon before next week, head coach Kenny Atkinson threw him into the fire against Irving and the 26-8 Cavaliers. The result for the nonguaranteed point guard wasn’t pretty — 3 fouls, 6 minutes — but, somehow, the Nets dodged a bullet and finished the first quarter down by just 4 points, 24-20.
Coming into the tilt, many would’ve had to force themselves into silver lining themes like, perhaps, how would Caris LeVert do matched up with James? And could Joe Harris get revenge on the team that once traded him? Or, what if Love ate another bad piece of airplane sea bass? And yet, all that preemptive posturing means nothing when the other side boasts James.
After hanging tough for much of the half, the superstar took over by getting to the line, chipped in with some smothering defense, and pushed the Cavaliers’ lead to as much as 14 in a matter of minutes. If not for a tremendous half from Bojan Bogdanovic — 14 points, 6-9 FG — things could’ve been far worse, as Lopez, Dinwiddie, and Harris combined for just 10 points.
While the #PeskyNets tried their best after the jump, there were just too many factors working against them — like, for example, Sean Kilpatrick, the birthday boy, couldn’t get it going and finished with just 4 points on 2-9 from the floor; or Dinwiddie nearly fouling out in what could be his final game in Brooklyn. Then, somewhere between their 13th turnover and Harris’ first basket at 0-8, the Cavaliers seemed to run away with this one.
Then a funny thing happened: the Nets fought back again — surprised? With James, in all likelihood, try to sit for the rest of the game, the Nets tore off 15-0 run to start the fourth quarter. Cutting the lead to as low as eight points, it was the solid work of Whitehead, Bogdanovic, Lopez, LeVert, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson that gave the Nets a glimmer of hope — but three-straight long range bombs from Irving slammed the door shut on that real quick.
Ultimately, it was three All-Stars versus none and, more importantly, a team of champions versus one that is a few years away from even sniffing the playoffs.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom tonight as the kids left their mark on a potentially embarrassing outing. Whitehead snagged 10 points and 10 rebounds, Hollis-Jefferson had spurts of that athletic defense, and LeVert set a career-high in points with 19. In a game that looked dead and buried, the Nets’ bench forced the defending champions to play their starters until the final buzzer.
They could’ve rolled over, bowed to King James’ will, and taken their L on the chin — but that’s not allowed in Atkinson’s Brooklyn and we couldn’t be more grateful for that.
Trevor Booker Power Forward
13 PTS, 6-9 FG, 12 REB, 4 AST, 3 TOV
No flex, but still another double-double — I’ll take it.
Given his late-game antics and big-time dunks, Booker gets one of the night’s highest grades. More often than not, you can count on Booker for exactly that and the power forward recorded his 12th double-double of the year.
Joe Harris Shooting Guard
2 PTS, 1-9 FG, 0-5 3PT, 6 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1 TOV
Joe Harris did not play well against his former team — and to steal a classic TBG line: he was a shooter than couldn’t hit shots tonight.
Brook Lopez Center
17 PTS, 5-10 FG, 1 REB, 1 AST, 5 TOV
Mhm, Twitter isn’t going to like this stat line from Brook Lopez, not one bit.
23 PTS, 9-14 FG, 5-9 3PT, 2 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 2 TOV
Bless you, Bojan Bogdanovic — you saved this game from being an absolute embarrassment. There are few Nets players over this Brooklyn-era that made ridiculous heat checks than Bogdanovic has.
If your time on the herringbone is coming to a close soon, thanks — you exceeded every expectation.
(And, hey, you know what? That defense wasn’t all that bad tonight — I’ll cool my jets, Bojan.)
Caris LeVert Shooting Guard
19 PTS, 7-12 FG, 4 REB, 5 AST, 1 TOV
Caris. Coleman. LeVert.
The Nets could lose their final 47 games and the rookie would be the price of admission alone. His stroke is so silky, his dribbling game so clean — man, it’s going to be fun watching LeVert evolve.
27 MINUTES, 1 TURNOVER.
Sean Kilpatrick Shooting Guard
4 PTS, 2-9 FG, 2 REB
Not the best birthday outing.
Isaiah Whitehead Point Guard
10 PTS, 4-10 FG, 10 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 4 TOV
Sneaky great effort from Isaiah Whitehead tonight as the rookie recorded his first-career double-double. Quietly, Whitehead has become quite the contributor for a second round selection.