The Nets took a late night L in Portland on Monday.
Following the heroics of Cam Thomas on Sunday, the Nets were back in action Monday night in Portland as they embarked on the rare cross country back-to-back.
Already facing the challenge of playing two games in 24 hours, the Nets would also be without James Harden who was a last-minute scratch due to a left knee hyperextension.
From the opening tip, the game was ugly for Brooklyn. Already short in frontcourt depth without the services of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Claxton picked up three fouls within the first six minutes of the game.
In came Blake Griffin who didn’t provide much relief on either end, even blowing two point-blank layups in the first half.
Free throw shooting was the name of the game in this one, especially in the first quarter. The Blazers went to the line 17 times scoring 15 of their 33 first-quarter points from the charity stripe.
After a lackadaisical start on offense in the first quarter, the Nets would pick it up in the second thanks to the play of their rookies. Led by Kevin Durant’s 13 second-quarter points, Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe and Kessler Edwards helped ignite the Nets offense en route to a 36-point second quarter.
With a seven-point halftime lead, the Nets seemed poised to separate themselves from a Trail Blazers team who were missing a bevy of players including Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. However, the scrappy bunch led by Anfernee Simons (23 points, 11 assists) kept hanging around and would eventually take the lead due to some hot shooting.
The Trail Blazers shot a blistering 8-for-15 from deep in the third quarter and would end the frame on a 10-2 run.
Once they claimed the lead, they held onto it for good. Timely three-point buckets by Robert Covington (21 points, 5-7 3pt FG) and Ben McLemore (20 points, 5-8 3pt FG) kept the Nets at arm’s length. After Brooklyn had closed the gap to five with under a minute remaining, McLemore hit a contested three which proved to be the dagger.
Leading the way for Brooklyn, as usual, was Kevin Durant who poured in 28 points on 9-for-19 shooting, grabbing 10 rebounds in the process. He also played 42 minutes which is not ideal considering he played 40+ minutes the day before against the Spurs.
In his second game back with the team Kyrie Irving (22 points) didn’t look too bad. Obviously, there were moments throughout the game where Irving was a little slow on a rotation or getting over a screen on defense which could just be chalked up to not having many game reps. On offense, you also saw his dribbling mastery not as sharp, and a few easy buckets missed. But again, for a guy who is playing in just his second NBA game in over six months, he looks much better than anticipated.
There was also a scary moment for Irving in the fourth quarter when his ankle was rolled up on by Nasir Little who was diving after a loose ball. Irving was on the floor for a little while but eventually got up and remained in the game.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 11, 2022
Although it can be hard to find silver linings in disappointing losses, the one thing Nets fans can take solace in is the fact the rookies stepped up in a big way. Leading the rookie brigade was Cam Thomas.
Fresh off hitting the game-winner a little over 24 hours prior, he dropped a career-high 21 points on a highly efficient 8-for-12 shooting. Cam started the game hot, knocking down his first two shots which were three-pointers. For the game, Cam hit four of his seven three-point attempts. A positive sign for the young man who has had his struggles shooting from distance this season.
Following Cam was Day’Ron Sharpe. Not many would have pegged Sharpe to play 24 minutes before the start of the game but there he was, in relief duty for Nic Claxton who was riddled with foul trouble all game and eventually left due to hamstring tightness.
Sharpe made the most of his minutes. He was especially active on the boards, pulling down seven rebounds to go along with his 14 points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting. Four of those rebounds were on the offensive end and he did a masterful job with his tip-in attempts.
Day’ron also flashed his versatility as a defender too. In the first half, he had a block on Dennis Smith Jr’s dunk attempt. In the second half, he displayed some of his perimeter skills as a defender by poking the ball free from a guard on the wing and diving after the ball.
As the Nets try and figure out which rotations and pairings work well together, Sharpe and Thomas made valiant cases for themselves Monday night. Kessler Edwards also saw the floor. Although not as impactful as the other two, he did pull down five rebounds and tacked on five points including a corner three. And rounding out the rookies was David Duke Jr who actually got the start Monday but wasn’t as impactful as some of his rookie brethren.
In the midst of this rough patch, the Nets need to figure it out quickly. Their next game is another road contest which means it’ll be another chance for Kyrie to suit up. It may also be the second time this season all three of Brooklyn’s superstars play in a game together.