The Nets were unable to contain the streaking Suns
Fresh off a Thanksgiving eve bludgeoning over the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets welcomed the Phoenix Suns to town. Arguably the hottest team in basketball, the Suns came into Saturday night’s contest winners of 15 straight games including a resounding win against the Knicks 24 hours prior.
With a modest four-game winning streak of their own, the Nets had a chance to really make a splash with a big early-season win and knock off a streaking Suns team. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the case as Phoenix would lead wire to wire for a 113-107 win, completing their Borough Sweep of both the Knicks and Nets.
From the jump, and throughout much of the game, it looked as if the Nets were the ones on the second half of a back-to-back and Phoenix were the ones on two days rest. Phoenix quickly grabbed control of the game in the first quarter with a 21-8 run. Spearheading the first-quarter assault for the Suns was Devin Booker (30 points) who dropped 16 points in the frame.
Turnovers would be the prevailing theme of the night for Brooklyn as it was one of the sloppier performances of the season. Brooklyn’s eight first-quarter turnovers helped spark the Suns’ hot start and the continued careless play to start the second would aid in Phoenix building a 20-point first-half lead.
Brooklyn used a 15-0 run over a six-minute span to pull within five. However, a Chris Paul (22 points, eight rebounds, five assists) three-pointer and buzzer-beater layup kept it at a double-digit halftime lead.
The Nets would actually shoot a better percentage than Phoenix in the first half as well as lead in the rebounding battle, however, their 15 turnovers to Phoenix’s five would prove to be the big difference.
The second half again saw Phoenix build up a lead due to the Nets’ turnover problems. The Suns would also get some separation in the second half by hunting LaMarcus Aldridge in the pick and roll on offense. Aldridge’s inability to play in the switch against guards that thrive on the perimeter and mid-range may prove to be a problem for Brooklyn during a potential playoff run.
Much like the first half, the Nets would again make a run to get them back in the game. Brooklyn would use a 19-2 spurt to cut the lead to as little as seven with just over two minutes left.
Patty Mills had a chance to cut the lead to four but missed a corner three on back-to-back possessions. A shot clock-beating tip-in by Jae Crowder with a minute left proved to be the dagger as the Suns would hang on for the six-point win.
Leading the charge for Brooklyn as always was Kevin Durant (39 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) who did all he could to keep the Nets in the game. Even with Bruce Brown returning, DeAndre’ Bembry was still slotted into the starting lineup and proved to be a nice offensive surprise pouring in 18 points.
Defensively, Bembry had himself a great game as well. Aside from pulling down nine boards, he gave guys like Booker and Paul fits all night whenever he was matched up against them. He even had two nice steals on Booker in the fourth quarter.
As good of a game as a role-player like Bembry had, it was a struggle for Brooklyn’s other superstar in James Harden. Although he did end the game with a triple-double (12 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists) it was one of Harden’s worst performances in recent games. Harden struggled mightily all night both with his shooting (4-for-15) and with turnovers. Of Brooklyn’s 20 team turnovers, Harden had seven of them.
Many of those turnovers were careless and came at inopportune times, either sparking a scoring run for Phoenix or killing momentum for the Nets. Even with small glimpses, the Nets and their fans still seem to be waiting for Harden to return to form or at least give more consistent outings.
Saturday night was a chance for the Nets to prove they are the real deal and not just the product of a fairly light schedule. Unfortunately, it was another failed litmus test. All six of their losses this season have come against teams over .500 with four of those teams being in the top three of each conference (Warriors, Suns, Bulls, Heat).
The Nets have obviously been hindered by injuries of late and on the season as a whole. They’re missing their best sharpshooter in Joe Harris and best switch defender in Nic Claxton. And of course, are missing a huge piece in Kyrie Irving.
It’s clear this Nets team is still trying to find out who they are as a team and carve out an identity. They aren’t the offensive juggernaut they were a year ago and even though their defense has improved, they aren’t defensive stalwarts. With an inability to just run teams out of the gym every night the Nets can’t afford to falter in the hustle stats department.
The bright spot for the Nets though is that this isn’t their final form. In fact, it’s nowhere near it once guys get healthy and rotations/roles get more solidified.
A matchup with the crosstown rival Knicks is next up on the docket for Brooklyn. It’s another team trying to figure themselves out as well.