Brooklyn Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn was fired up prior to his team’s matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday.
“Can I lace them up today! I’m ready to pick up full court!” Vaughn yelled on his way to Brooklyn’s locker room.
The energy was a stark contrast to his team’s apathetic defensive effort in a disappointing loss to the Indiana Pacers Friday. There were reasonable questions heading into the matinee matchup about whether Vaughn’s players would match his intensity.
Brooklyn responded by holding Portland under 25 points in three of four quarters on their way to a 111-97 win. The Nets’ defensive activity and engagement Sunday were night and day compared to recent performances. Vaughn’s squad allowed just 40 points in the second half, holding the Trail Blazers to 17 points on 6 of 19 shooting in the 4th quarter.
“We kept using the word aggressive in any sort of timeout or gathering together,” Vaughn said of his team’s defense down the stretch. “We want to be the aggressors on every possession. Talked about it before the game, we were up six I believe in Indianapolis going into the fourth. What was our mindset going to be? Were we going to be locked into each possession?”
“The group that started the fourth started out playing very well together, pushing the pace, rebounding the basketball, and the group that finished did the same thing,” he continued. “The mentality: come ready to play, locked in, fourth quarter, let’s get a win.”
After he got off to a strong start, Brooklyn’s swarming defense held Jerami Grant to just 9 points on 3 of 11 shooting in the second half. Anfernee Simons, who Vaughn emphasized as a focus pregame, scored just 15 points on 4 of 14 shooting.
“We wore them down I think,” Kevin Durant said of Brooklyn’s defense. “Jerami Grant got hot in the first half. He had 20 points. In the second quarter he got going. But he ended up with 29… We just stayed poised. Anfernee Simons 4 of 14. Jerami Grant 11 of 24. We did our job on our two because last time they had incredible games.”
Despite opening the 4th with a small-ball lineup that featured Ben Simmons surrounded by four shooters, the Nets overwhelmed Portland’s ball handlers and swarmed the glass down the stretch. The group’s added speed and shooting around Simmons allowed Brooklyn to push the pace and generate high-quality transition opportunities.
“The size is not a limitation. We’ll keep going back to that,” Vaughn said of the small-ball group’s improved rebounding. “We had some great boxouts. Joe had a phenomenal boxout, Seth came back in. Our bigs were around the rim and it’s really just a shift in mentality. If we can get the rebound there’s not too many teams that can keep up with us in transition. We’re pretty good at eliminating that first shot, now let’s make it one shot so we can get off and running.”
Seth Curry’s performance off the bench was the difference offensively for Brooklyn Sunday. Curry turned his best performance as a Net, scoring 29 points on 7 of 10 shooting from three. The sharpshooter has found his stroke after struggling to open the year while recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Curry is averaging 15.1 points on 24 of 49 (49 percent) shooting from three in his last eight appearances.
In addition to his elite floor spacing, the guard frequently adds a secondary ball-handler and creator late in the shot clock to complement Durant and Kyrie Irving.
— NBA (@NBA) November 27, 2022
“I always feel like if I get good shots I’m going to make them at a high clip,” Seth Curry said postgame. “Just a matter of what our offense is looking like, how I’m moving, just my rhythm. Our offense was flowing and guys found me early on to start the game, so it felt pretty good. (I was) aggressive, tried to attack off the bounce when I could and just tried to hunt shots for myself. Like I said, my big night was a product of the way we were playing on offense.”
Kevin Durant led all scorers with 31 points on 12 of 20 shooting. Durant is averaging 29.1 points this season while posting the league’s best field goal percentage (53.4) among 27 players attempting 17.5 or more shots per game.
— NBA (@NBA) November 27, 2022
Kyrie Irving chipped in 22 points and six assists in a high-level two-way performance. Ben Simmons struggled to find his shot with Portland playing a 2-3 zone for large stretches of the game, finishing with just two points. However, the Aussie still managed to force his imprint on the game, posting 12 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals, all team-highs.
The win kicks off a seven-game homestand for Brooklyn. The Nets will return to action to action Monday against Orlando before matchups with Washington, Toronto and Boston later this week.