From the full 48-minute format to the deeper roster of available players, the second of three scrimmages that are part of the NBA season restart in Orlando looked more like the real thing for the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets did their part in making it so with a sharper performance in a 124-119 win over the San Antonio Spurs.
“You want to play with momentum and you want to have momentum as a team,” said head coach Jacque Vaughn, whose team has one more scrimmage — against the Utah Jazz on Monday — before next Friday’s opener against Orlando. “I definitely acknowledge that part of it. We didn’t overreact to the first game. We had a lot of people who were out and we were just trying to treat it like a scrimmage, like black vs. gray. I do like the fact that our guys didn’t like the way the game was resolved, and so wanted to play better. So really that was the test for our group, to come out and play with energy and effort to get a win.”
A trio of strong and efficient offensive showings powered Brooklyn, with Caris LeVert putting up 27 points in 23 minutes, and Rodions Kurucs and Tyler Johnson scoring 17 points each. Joe Harris had 12 points after sitting out the first scrimmage on Wednesday, and Jarrett Allen had another double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Like Harris, Johnson was making his preseason debut, and his first appearance in a Nets uniform after being signed in June. Johnson entered the game with 4:08 to go in the first quarter and quickly knocked down a pull-up jumper and a 3-pointer.
Ultimately, Johnson turned the game for Brooklyn in the final minutes. With the Nets down 111-110 and under three minutes to go, Johnson knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers just 23 seconds apart to put the Nets ahead for good. With Brooklyn leading 117-115, Johnson pulled up for a 19-footer and a four-point lead with 1:37 to go.
He finished up shooting 7-for-11 and 3-for-5 from 3-point range.
“Playing against him all these years, seeing what he did in Miami and Phoenix, we know how capable of an offensive player he is and what he's able to bring to our team,” said Joe Harris. “And again, he looks great right now, he's moving really well, obviously super-efficient from the floor today, he's an excellent defender and communicator.”
While Johnson gave the Nets something new, LeVert’s dominance was familiar. He scored eight of Brooklyn’s first 17 points, and closed the first half in a rush as well. With the Nets down 53-48, LeVert made four straight free throws, fed Allen for a lob finish, then knocked down a 3-pointer to cap a 9-0 run and lift the Nets into a 57-57 tie at halftime.
LeVert made 8-of-17 shots, including 3-of-9 3-pointers and connected on 8-of-9 free throws, with three assists and three steals.
“Just the confidence level. Again, he’s the prime example of these guys haven’t played 5-on-5 with referees in a long time, so I think he was much more at ease tonight,” said Vaughn. “He really put his foot on the gas pedal early. Even on defensive possessions. Really got us going and that sets him up to potentially play in a third game going forward in a couple days.”
Brooklyn stretched its lead to 12 points in the third quarter as Garrett Temple knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, then capped an 11-2 run with a drive for an 86-74 lead. The Nets were still up 99-90 early in the fourth quarter after a Justin Anderson 3-pointer before a 9-0 Spurs run tightened the game up until Johnson came through with his clutch jumpers.
“We got a lot of shots that we wanted to generate offensively, whether it’s 44 threes, whether it’s the 27 assists, and we got some good looks that didn’t go in for us, so as our legs get underneath us, hopefully those shots will drop for us,” said Vaughn. “And then defensively, the deflections that you see. The steals, getting in passing lanes, dictating what defensive coverages we wanted to be in. Those two things really stood out to us.”