That is what playoff basketball appears to be like, sounds — and in case you ask both group — seems like.
Our bodies colliding. Coaches fired up. A wire-to-wire sport that’s determined late within the fourth.
The Nets’ 110-99 loss to the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks gave all of it. Steve Nash was tossed after a double technical within the third quarter. Kevin Durant suffered a stinger in his shoulder and Ben Simmons winced with again ache — and continued to wrestle to search out his footing on the offensive finish.
However in the long run, it was nonetheless a sport. And in the long run, the Nets had an opportunity to win.
Make no mistake: The Nets would love an undefeated begin to their season. They’d love for the fruits of what’s going to be a full season’s price of labor truly mirrored within the win column.
They knew, nonetheless, they’d be off to a troublesome begin — with Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks awaiting on Thursday for the second leg of a back-to-back. They knew the wins wouldn’t rack up early. You didn’t want Nash, Kyrie Irving or Simmons to say issues would look ugly earlier than they acquired fairly.
There continues to be, nonetheless, areas the Nets might want to enhance on in the event that they’re going to finally begin turning that progress into victories.
DEPTH AT THE FIVE
It’s clear as day that each Nic Claxton and second-year huge man Day’Ron Sharpe have improved from the place they had been final season.
It’s additionally clear as day that these enhancements, fairly frankly, aren’t sufficient.
That’s as a result of different groups are simply going to brute drive their method into the paint, identical to Giannis Antetokounmpo did within the third quarter. After the Nets went on a 35-18 second-quarter run to take a 55-43 lead into halftime, Antetokounmpo responded by taking the Carmelo Anthony-coined ‘bully ball’ to a special degree.
Antetokounmpo scored 17 of his 43 factors within the third quarter, and he did the identical method: both on the low left block, pummeling his method by means of whichever defender the Nets placed on him; or downhill in transition or after a rebound, placing his head and shoulder down and attending to the rim.
The Nets don’t have a solution for that, identical to they didn’t have a solution for New Orleans’ Zion Williamson and Jonas Valanciunas; like they didn’t have a solution for Memphis’ Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke; and like they received’t have a solution for the foreseeable future on the high of an Jap Convention the place the groups resulting in the Finals will all be larger and stronger than the Nets as presently constructed.
NBA fixture Jeff Van Gundy mentioned it greatest throughout ESPN’s broadcast. Van Gundy was requested particularly if he believed the Nets can contend at a excessive degree with solely Claxton and Sharpe enjoying the 5.
“I believe they undoubtedly should discover all alternatives to get a special sort of huge,” he mentioned.
It’s price noting Markieff Morris missed his second straight sport for private causes, and it’s the second time in a row a group all however bullied the Nets to a double-digit loss.
“SHOOT IT BEN”
These had been the precise phrases Irving screamed after dumping the ball off to Simmons just a few ft from the rim, just for Simmons to pause, by no means take a look at the rim, and cross to a teammate.
Simmons shot two-of-seven from the sphere for 4 factors, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, two steals and a block in opposition to the Bucks. Defensively, he performed possibly his greatest sport of the season. If that is the Simmons the Nets are getting on that finish of the ball, signal them up for a full 12 months’s price.
However two issues are clear on the offensive finish: One, Simmons is hesitant — much more hesitant than James Harden was final season — to attain. And we’re not speaking leap pictures. We’re speaking attending to the rim to dunk and even to the working hook shot he feels he can get off at any time.
Which brings us to the second level: He’s clearly nonetheless laboring after present process a again process this offseason. On one play defending Antetokounmpo, he hunched over in clear discomfort, then continued to play by means of the ache.
It’s admirable, however this has all the time been a priority: Simmons, solely months faraway from a microdiscectomy, is now tasked with being the Nets’ greatest, and hardest defender in any respect 5 positions.
After which, the Nets are asking him to be aggressive on offense.
He must be, as a result of on Wednesday evening, the Bucks merely parked Brook Lopez within the paint and dared Simmons to shoot something exterior of 5 ft. It’s the worst saved secret that he has but to reclaim the athleticism that allowed him to complete on the rim with authority. Towards the Bucks, he missed a wide-open layup, then missed the following tip-in a fraction of a second later.
Which brings us to the viral “Shoot it, Ben!” clip, the place Irving dumps the ball off to Simmons just a few ft from the basket, and Simmons holds the ball for a second and a half, then appears to be like to cross.
It wasn’t that play that was the problem, but it surely was a microcosm of the place Simmons is in his return after 470 days accumulating rust lacking all the 2021-22 NBA season. He performed a superb defensive sport, however on offense, he dribbled the ball up the court docket, then set a display screen for the individual he handed to — also called a dribble hand-off (or DHO) — again and again.
And if that is the place the Nets are, then it’s going to fall, as soon as once more, on the shoulders of the celebrity scorers this franchise emboldened with the keys to the dominion. Irving and Durant mixed for 60 factors on the evening, however Irving missed 12 pictures and Durant missed 13. Just one different participant scored in double figures: Royce O’Neale, who hit 4 three-pointers within the second quarter and by no means scored once more.
Antetokounmpo completed with 43 factors, however the Bucks additionally outrebounded the Nets by 17. Once more, it’s not concerning the wins and losses — simply but — extra so how the Nets look whereas competing in a season with championship expectations.
They appear good, however two obvious enhancements clearly should be made if that is going to be the final group standing on the finish of the season.