Nets fans owe a thank you to Drederick Irving for one of Brooklyn’s most exciting victories this season. According to Kyrie, his dad “told me to get my balance under me every time I shot those three-pointers.” Well, when Kyrie did some dribbles to the right and hit Fred VanVleet with a patented snatch-back before he lined up the shot with a majestic, game-winning buzzer-beater to give the Nets their ninth win in ten games…he had his balance beneath him. And he put Brooklyn fans in euphoria.
There is no greater joy than watching Irving at work. It’s the retirement of his booming tenure in Brooklyn. This is not the time to describe the entirety of the Irving experience. But watching him find ways to put the ball in the basket brings to mind the childish wonder of falling in love with the game in the first place. It’s art, it’s magic, it’s breathtaking. Watching Kyrie dance while the game is at stake? It only enhances the experience.
“He definitely has that inner calm and balance that you need to have in this situation not to panic. He has an innate ability to get into his place,” said Jacque Vaughn. Only the truth.
But that was the end; Let’s start at the beginning. I wrote in the game preview that I expect Brooklyn to start off a little slow. Nothing against those new and improved nets, but after three rest days against a Toronto team fast approaching the make-or-break point of their season, it just seemed like a fitting recipe. “It certainly won’t come as a surprise if the Nets go down 13-4 or something like that. Long rest for them, motivated Raptors team, pumped crowd,” was the idiom I used.
And that’s what happened. Only the networks did not correct the course so quickly. Toronto built an 18-point lead in the first half, turning Brooklyn’s halffield offense into yellow snow. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving each hit some hard shots to save the half at least a little, cutting it down to 10 in the second quarter. But it didn’t feel sustainable. The ball didn’t move; Toronto dictated the terms of the engagement.
However, Brooklyn did what good teams do. Sure, Malachi Flynn came through with a surprising performance; Fred VanVleet has put together his second strong performance in a row. But VanVleet is a good player, it will happen. He took hard shots. Through it all, you could see Jacque Vaughn’s influence permeating the product on the pitch. All the clichés came true: they turned up the intensity in the second half, weathered the storm and everyone contributed.
By the end of the third quarter, Brooklyn had the game’s biggest lead by four points. They knew we were in for a competitive fourth quarter against a team who, while underperforming, should certainly not be taken lightly. And that’s what we got. The Nets took a 105-97 lead and all seemed fine, but a rough offense and faceoff from Scottie Barnes wiped them out.
On his return to Toronto, Yuta Watanabe had the night’s two biggest offensive plays without a Kyrie shot. He set up this huge go-ahead basket with a nice drive and dish:
And then of course a go-ahead three set up by a great Kyrie Irving drive and dish. What does it say about his outburst on stage that we had no doubts that this was going to happen?
Who needs KD’s insult when you’ve got Yuta and Kyrie? KD came through against D, albeit with a huge, unofficial block to prevent Scottie Barnes from converting a three-point green play. And then Kiri. What a win.
The movie room
Regarding X and O, Brooklyn reversed a sluggish start where her offense was far too easy to herd:
Some clips from the first half (I just caught up) starting with that ugly opening possession. Stagnant, the ball came in at half shot clock: pic.twitter.com/8UlqvGtP4d
— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 17, 2022
That’s not to say it was always easy, but the process got much better in the second half:
This is a really encouraging Brooklyn-based possession. Nothing easy, just like the first half, but continued attacking closeouts and the ball ends up in the hands of the best player and Kyrie makes a move: pic.twitter.com/9vfVBSwjRH
— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 17, 2022
However, as usual, the offense really shone in transition, or at least when the tempo was pushed. It’s not like Ben Simmons has to throw it the length of the court with 22 on the shot clock for offense to work, just a little oomph is enough. Every time Toronto was on their heels enough to be unsure of their pairings and still fighting at the attacking point, good things happened:
The distances are still a bit rough. Boys pass the ball and stand still, there’s a significant lack of ability to shift when neither Seth Curry nor Joe Harris are on the court. But the process and the pace improved greatly as the game progressed.
Defensively it was a similar story, improved effort and so on. But boy, do I have to commend Nic Claxton, who deserves his own article after handing in a game that should serve as a nice centerpiece for his budding all-defensive-team campaign. Six blocks, countless fights at the basket and continued stops after being switched to the perimeter. Here is just one example:
A whole bunch of them…
- Kevin Durant moved one point ahead of John Havilchek on the all-time scorer list… and three points ahead of Paul Pierce. KD, now 18th all-time, has 26,394 to Havilchek’s 26,395 and Pierce’s 26,397. He’s 102 shy of Tim Duncan for 15th place.
- Kyrie Irving’s game-winning buzzer-beater is Brooklyn’s first since Brook Lopez played Detroit on March 21, 2017.
- The Nets win a 4-0 win in the season series against Toronto with today’s win. This is the second time the Nets have defeated the Raptors in a season since the Raptors’ inaugural season (1995-96) (also: 2002-03).
- With the Nets winning tonight in Toronto:
—Best of the season fifth win in a row.
– Ninth win in last 10.
–12. win in the last 15
—Season-best three straight road wins.
—18-12 record on the season (8-7 on the road).
- Nic Claxton (15 points, 10 boards) had a career-high six blocks.
The Nets are traveling just south of the border to Detroit to face the rebuilding Pistons Sunday night with a tip at 6:00 p.m. ET.