The Brooklyn Nets are back at Barclays Center on Friday night after an opening night loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The one-point overtime loss featured Kyrie Irving’s 50-point thriller, but also a slow start and unfinished possessions on both ends down the stretch.
“I thought we played hard,” said head coach Kenny Atkinson. “I think we can execute a little better and play; lot of mistakes, lot of mental mistakes. I think that’s the most frustrating thing for a coach, because that’s on me too, helping these guys understand coverages, understand how disciplined we’ve got to be. There were a lot of breakdowns quite honestly. The effort was there. Long film session. Not too harsh. It’s more feed forward rather than feedback, stuff that can help.”
Down by as many as 18 points in the first half, the Nets blitzed Minnesota out of halftime with a 37-20 third quarter and led by as many as eight in the fourth quarter. They had multiple leads in the final minutes, but couldn’t close out the Wolves.
“I felt like it was two different teams in the first and second half and in this league teams are so talented once you get behind you know you're fighting an uphill battle the rest of the game,” said DeAndre Jordan. “It's kind of tough to get back into those games and the basketball gods make you pay for it.”
KYRIE, THE DAY AFTER
The Nets couldn’t have asked for much more from Kyrie Irving in his Brooklyn debut. In 38 minutes he scored 50 points and didn’t have a single turnover. If the video clips lit up social media and the highlight reels, he left enough viewers floored right on his own bench.
“I mean, it was phenomenal; 50 points,” said Spencer Dinwiddie, trying to hold back his laughter. “He scored 50. No, for real. We were like, ‘Damn.’ For real. You guys are laughing, so it’s making me laugh. I’m one of those chain-reaction laughers. But I’m so serious, we were like, ‘Whoa, this is amazing!’”
“I mean you expect that from Kyrie,” said DeAndre Jordan. “I was in shock a lot of the times, that's kind of why I was on the bench looking like, ‘wow.’ I've seen stuff like that but I've never seen it up close and so consistent. Especially for an opening night game I just was in shock really. But you expect that kind of stuff from Kyrie. He does crazy stuff like that.”
GETTING THE OFFENSE GOING
Kyrie Irving was sharp from wire to wire, but it took a little while for everybody else to get going. In particular, the Nets struggled to finish early at the rim where they were 4-for-14 as part of an 8-for-25 first quarter.
“I wasn’t disappointed,” said Kenny Atkinson. “I didn’t think there was any selfish play. I thought it was pretty good. I thought our finishing at the rim was very subpar. Like, we got there a ton, I thought we got good looks at the rim. I’ll give Karl-Anthony Towns a heck lot of credit, I thought he was elite defending the rim last night. Credit to him. But that being said, we’ve got to finish better; we’ve got to finish better if we’re going to get those type of shots.”
Brooklyn ended up shooting 47.5 percent overall and 44.1 percent from 3-point range for the game. Over the final three quarters, the Nets shot 52.6 percent.
“You look at this team, I don’t think offense is gonna be our problem by any means,” said Joe Harris. “It’s tidying up some stuff defensively. We had a few little miscues whether it was defensive rebounding or the defensive end in general. But especially in that second half we played really well together, the ball was moving, guys were playing aggressively. Anytime you have someone like Kyrie who’s able to get going like he did and also create for his teammates, it makes the game a lot easier for everyone else.”
In particular, the Nets found a 3-point groove after halftime. Taurean Prince and Harris were a combined 0-for-2 in the first half from deep, and finished up 6-for-11. The Nets shot 8-for-14 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range in the second half.
“I think a lot of those were transition offense and then Kyrie coming in the flow and finding guys,” said Prince. “It all started with stops in my opinion. We started getting multiple stops in a row. I think that’s what really got us going.”
While Kyrie Irving and the starters got going, the Nets got just 21 points off the bench in the opener, 14 of them from Spencer Dinwiddie.
“Our bench is going to have to pick it up,” said Kenny Atkinson. “If you take the Toronto (preseason) game that’s two games in a row. That’s also me figuring out what that unit looks like and how we stagger the minutes and how we can balance it. And I think that second unit’s going to be really good. I just think they haven’t grabbed their identity yet.”
ABOUT THE KNICKS
The Nets host the New York Knicks in their second game of the season. The Knicks dropped their opener in San Antonio on Wednesday night, 120-111 against the Spurs. Forwards Marcus Morris and Julius Randle, two offseason acquisitions, had 26 and 25 points, respectively. The Knicks also added 6-10, 250-pound forward Bobby Portis, and he joined Morris and Randle in starting in the frontcourt.
“Power, strength. I think Randle and Portis, right off the bat, that’s Jarrett Allen and Taurean they’re going to have to withstand,” said Kenny Atkinson. “I think there’s a place for DeAndre in this game. I think we’re going to need his force and his size, definitely he’s going to play a big role.”
Rookie RJ Barrett, the third overall pick, and second-year guard Allonzo Trier rounded out New York’s opening night starting lineup.
“The Knicks obviously are one of these teams where they have a lot of just really quality pieces, really talented offensive players, and you could kind of go down their roster, and you could say hey, it could be Marcus Morris one night, it could be Julius Randle the other, it could be RJ Barrett, you never know,” said Harris. “They have a lot of really good pieces offensively and I think it’s about us individually taking ownership with our matchups, understanding the personnel, having a little bit of pride individually defensively.”