Brooklyn Nets Close Out With Dominant Defense On Road Trip
Nets have most road wins in NBA after 3-1 trip as roles grow for Thomas and Claxton
The Brooklyn Nets wrapped up a 3-1 road trip with Sunday night’s 116-104 win in Detroit, and with that, elevated their road record for the 2021-22 season to 11-3. That’s the most road wins in the league and good enough for the second-highest road winning percentage (.786) behind 9-2 Phoenix (.818).
The Nets locked down all three of their wins on the trip in remarkably similar fashion — with devastating, defensively dominating finishes that erased deficits for come-from-behind wins. Against the Pistons, that meant opening up the fourth quarter on a 19-1 run after trailing by five and ultimately limiting Detroit to 13 points on 22.2 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.
“We went to our switching defense and more importantly we just got into people more,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “Upped our intensity. Forced turnovers. Did a good job just defending in general in the fourth and held them to 13 points.”
It was the same in Dallas and Atlanta. The Nets held the Mavericks to 13 points on 19.0 percent shooting and the Hawks to 14 points on 27.3 percent shooting in the fourth quarter. They outscored the Mavericks, Hawks, and Pistons 81-40 during the fourth quarter in their three wins on the trip.
“We all got to be on one string defensively, it’s a team concept on defense,” said Kevin Durant. “We can’t … one guy can’t be on anything different than the other four guys. So defense wins games and gives you a little more of a leash on the offensive side. I’ll take it that if we play great defense, then we got a little bit more freedom on the offensive end. It starts with me as the guy that sets the tone on both sides of the ball so I try to do that as much as possible.”
The trip extended a string of fourth-quarter excellence by Brooklyn and took it to extremes as well. Over the four games, the Nets posted a defensive rating of 68.8 points allowed per 100 possessions with a net rating of 54.3. Over their last 16 games, dating back to Nov. 10, the Nets are first in the NBA with a 95.0 defensive rating in the fourth quarter and second with a 20.5 net rating.
“I think it shows that our group’s gaining confidence and resiliency,” said Nash. “We're able to dig ourselves out of little holes, and that we can turn up the defense. You know it's always great for our staff when we see the guys defend and win games with defense. I think that's got to be the way we win the majority of our games this year. And they did that on this trip.”
Brooklyn’s road trip offered more opportunity for Cam Thomas, which the rookie guard took advantage of. Thomas has steadily moved up in the rotation over the past month and is now routinely the first player off the bench for Brooklyn.
Over the final three games of the trip, Thomas averaged 14.0 points per game, including a career-high 18 in Houston.
“He’s just always asking questions, you know? We always talk through stuff, what he needs to do on a certain play, his IQ for the game is very high for a young player who hasn’t really played much,” said Durant after Thomas scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds against Atlanta. “He’s finding his footing with our different lineups and understanding what his role is. He’s coming off and giving us – I feel like he’s averaging double digits since he’s been in there. I don’t know for a fact but it feels like he’s averaging double digits. So we need that from him. He hit three big 3s tonight. We just need his confidence to keep growing and for him to feel comfortable out there on both sides of the ball, and I think it’s moving in the right direction for him.”
CLAX IS BACK
After missing 17 games due to illness, Nic Claxton played three minutes in his return on Dec. 3, then did not play in the following game. Then the Nets hit the road, where Claxton reestablished his place in the rotation.
“He understands what this role is on this veteran team,” said Kevin Durant. “He was out a couple months, so for him to come in and be a situational type of guy right now. He understands that. He did that somewhat last year and somewhat his rookie year, so he’s starting to understand the flow of the game.”
Claxton averaged 19.2 minutes per game on the trip, and while he scored a total of 20 points, his impact was felt dramatically on the defensive end, particularly in those big closing fourth quarters in Brooklyn’s wins. In those three wins, Claxton played all but 38 seconds of the 36 total fourth-quarter minutes.
“Nic brings a different dynamic than any of our bigs on both ends of the ball,” said James Harden after the win in Atlanta. “Being able to guard elite guards like Trae Young and then, offensively, as I’m attacking or any of our guards are attacking, he’s able to finish, offensive rebound. So he brings a different dynamic that we’ve been missing all year long. He had an exceptional game tonight, not really having any minutes in that first half and then being ready when Steve called his number. He was ready to go in and made an impact on the game.”
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