10 takeaways from the Nets' win against the Clippers
Brooklyn goes unbeaten on an impressive 5-game trip, knocking off both L.A. squads and Phoenix along the way.
That’s a wrap for the Nets’ five-game West road trip. Put a bow tie on it, too — the Nets went undefeated, winning four without Kevin Durant, and found themselves in the process.
All but two games were won by double digits and the against impressive competition in both L.A. teams and the Suns. The Nets were dominant at times and failed to blink whenever challenged, like the final minutes on Sunday. It was the type of trip Brooklyn needed in order to rise in the East, erase most of the issues plaguing them and officially announce themselves as a team to be taken seriously this season.
Remember, before the trip began, the Nets were in a state of confusion: Their defense was awful, they played down to the level of their competition far too often, coach Steve Nash’s qualifications were being questioned on social media, and their three stars hadn’t played much together because of injuries and health restrictions.
Durant is still recovering from a hamstring issue, but James Harden and Kyrie Irving filled in and the Nets didn’t miss him on the trip.
They flew home in style after beating the Clippers, 112-108, withstanding a late L.A. rally. Here are 10 takeaways from that game and a trip the Nets won’t quickly forget:
1. Nets defense stiffens
Look, if what we’re seeing lately is for real, then the Nets are a big problem for the league. After being the butt of jokes and suffering embarrassing losses, the Nets straightened up and tightened up the D — or at least the effort — and suddenly nobody’s laughing anymore. Other than Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, nobody troubled Brooklyn, and the Clippers were locked up for much of this game.
2. Paul George watches the outcome
He led the Clippers with 34 points in 33 minutes, but sat the final few minutes of a four-point game, obviously costing the Clippers a primary option and maybe even the game. The Clippers chose to tread carefully with a player who just recently returned from a toe injury and kept him on a minutes restriction. Coach Ty Lue called it “a tough decision.” Fine. But without George, the Clippers in the stretch were forced to rely on Leonard, who was called for an offensive foul with the game tied and Leonard driving for what appeared to be an easy, game-tying bucket against Harden.
3. DeAndre Jordan loves L.A.
He was one of the core players in the “Lob City” days and Sunday, he rolled back the clock. Jordan spooked his former team all night, providing defensive intimidation — four blocks — along with 11 rebounds and a crucial left-hand tip with 11 seconds left that gave Brooklyn the lead for good. There’s no telling if Jordan can keep this up defensively, let alone in the playoffs. If he can, that’s a big plus, and Brooklyn might even gamble and keep him on the floor for late possessions, risking hack-a-DJ in the process.
4. East up for grabs
Brooklyn is now just a half-game behind first-place Philadelphia and gaining momentum. Everyone had a hunch that, at some point, the Nets would begin to maximize their obvious advantage and show some flex. Now, the top spot in the East is well within their sights. Plus, the Milwaukee Bucks are trying to recover from the losing skid that saw them fall while the Nets rose. The season is tricky and nothing should be set in stone here in late February. It won’t be until the end.
5. Clippers’ PGs creating internal pressure
If there’s a weakness on the Clippers, this is it. Patrick Beverley and Reggie Jackson aren’t natural point guards who create off the dribble and facilitate. Mainly, they dribble up court, throw the ball to Leonard and George and run to the corner. This puts pressure on Leonard and George to constantly revert to 1-on-1 play. This is probably the reality for the rest of the season as the Clippers might not find a true point guard on the buyout market.
6. Nets’ sinister screens
What’s scary about the Nets is how they can destroy teams by using screens to create mismatches for Harden and Irving. They did this multiple times using Jordan, leaving a slower, less mobile big to defend Irving or Harden (Serge Ibaka was victimized repeatedly). That’s the benefit of having supreme isolation players who can shoot as well as get to the rim off the dribble.
7. The Harden and Kyrie connection
Any fears that these two ball-dominant players would become as compatible as oil and water can begin to subside somewhat if not completely. Both of these All-Stars — Kyrie was voted a starter and Harden will surely get the coach’s vote this week as a reserve — appear to be on the same page and in-step. Their body language is positive and they’re saying all the right things, which means it’s working between them so far. Of course, the big test comes when things aren’t going so well. But given the way the Nets just completed this trip, and with Durant on the way back, Brooklyn might not see much misery in the near future.
8. Leonard’s commitment to the classics
Other than DeMar DeRozan, is there another player who stays old school and uses the mid-range shot to his advantage? Once again, Kawhi showed that you don’t need to obey the analytics crowd and primarily shoot 3-pointers or attack the rim. There can be balance in your game, but too many players believe they can only have a lengthy career and make money if they shoot 3-pointers. Defenses are no longer protecting the mid-range, and Kawhi manages to find that soft spot.
9. Cold hand Luke
The Clippers didn’t have much in terms of assets to use last offseason and eventually spent it all on Ibaka and Luke Kennard. While Ibaka assumed the starting center position and is contributing, Kennard is a disappointment so far since arriving from Detroit in a three-team trade (and then given a four-year, $64 million extension). He’s been timid, unwilling to be the aggressor or shoot with volume. As a result, his minutes are dwindling. He didn’t play against Brooklyn (he did miss the previous game with a minor knee issue) and the Clippers are giving Terance Mann some burn.
10. Bruce Brown, locking it down
Curiously, in that three-team trade involving Kennard, the Nets received Brown, who has played relatively well in 14 starts this season. Brown doesn’t shoot 3-pointers, but his bounce off the dribble and defense are keeping him on the floor. The 6-foot-4 guard had four steals against the Clippers with 13 points and eight rebounds, all in 34 minutes. When Durant heals up, Brown will likely remain a fixture in the rotation.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.