The Brooklyn Nets did everything necessary to set themselves up for a much-needed win Thursday vs. the Cavaliers. They turned a weakness into a strength, out-rebounding Cleveland 26-14 in the first half to open up a 10-0 second chance points advantage. Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 57 points on 20-of-34 shooting. And they finally got hot from three with Joe Harris knocking down four triples in the 4th quarter.
All of that had Brooklyn ahead by six with the ball with 1:30 remaining.
It’s a spot that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving routinely closed out as veteran leaders on the floor the last three seasons. Thursday it was where the wheels would come off without them. Bridges and Dinwiddie, who had been phenomenal all night, turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions, cutting the lead to two.
Dinwiddie and Donovan Mitchell, who poured in 31 points on 11-of-23 shooting, would trade baskets on the next two possessions, giving Brooklyn the ball up two with 45 seconds remaining. After the Nets called a timeout, Dinwiddie got the ball in the backcourt and was trapped. With no teammates flashing to him, he threw a wild pass to dorian finney-smith, who caught it while falling out of bounds before turning it over.
Mitchell would drive on the other end and get fouled. After making the first free throw, he rebounded his own miss, leading to a scramble that would find Isacc Okoro in the corner for a wide-open three: nothing but net. The shot handed Brooklyn a heartbreaking fifth consecutive loss.
ISAAC OKORO FOR THE WIN 😱
WHAT A FINISH. pic.twitter.com/21XgHBFyRB
— NBA (@NBA) March 24, 2023
The Nets’ final turnover looms especially large given they just came out of a timeout and looked woefully unprepared for a trap in the backcourt. Dinwiddie said postgame that Brooklyn needs players to flash to the ball in that spot, but took responsibility for not calling his team’s final timeout:
“When you’re getting trapped, you’re supposed to have a couple guys flash to the ball,” he said. “It was a little bit delayed so sometimes you try to throw a guy open. In hindsight, I should’ve just called a timeout. I accept full responsibility for that. That’s not on Dorian, that’s on me.”
Finney-Smith, on the other hand, said he wasn’t aware the Nets had a timeout on the game-deciding turnover:
“I got caught on the sideline. Probably should’ve called timeout, but I didn’t know the timeouts, how many we had, so I tried to get it to Mikal and he missed it,” he said.
The erratic nature of what should be a routine play while closing out a game underscores the absence of Durant and Irving, as well as the new-look Nets’ short time alongside one another, two things Dinwiddie touched on when asked what he takes from the loss:
“We’re trying to do this at an accelerated pace. We’re basically in training camp for this group,” he said. “If you’re a seasoned team, the flash probably happens bang, bang. Everybody just breaks that press: boom, boom. You might even get a dunk. People see that all the time. That’s not the case for us right now.”
Dinwiddie was also asked whether he felt Mitchell left early on his offensive rebound of the final missed free throw, but the veteran was more interested in discussing how his team got themselves into that situation:
“I haven’t seen it. I would assume so since he got the rebound. But at the end of the day, I’m as hard on the refs as anyone, but we had to get to that point,” he said. “That’s a bang, bang play, it’s not like he shoved somebody out of bounds or something crazy where we got super slighted. We had to have a cascade of events to even get there. So we have to be accountable for that.”
The crushing loss drops Brooklyn a half-game behind the Heat to seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Nets will travel to Miami Saturday for a critical matchup if they hope to avoid the play-in for the second consecutive season. While head coach Jacque Vaughn admitted a loss like Thursday’s is emotionally taxing, he said there are several positives his team can carry into what will be their biggest game of the season:
“A game like this, this is an emotional, taxing game when you don’t come out as the winner,” he said. “Emotionally, you’re gonna be spent a little bit, so I think you learn about (whether) can you let it go and move onto the next game. Can you take the lessons from the game? Whether that’s to continue to move the ball like we did on a lot of the possessions in the fourth, the second group finding an identity and playing well on both sides of the floor, there are a lot of good things that we did tonight.
We have to let that game go and be able to emotionally gather ourselves and try to win a ball game in Miami. I tell the team: a lot of times in defeat, you learn who the hell you are, so this is an opportunity for us to learn who we are.”