After the Brooklyn Nets were routed by the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night on their home floor, losing 117-99 to fall to 0-4 this season against the Warriors, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, Nets coach Steve Nash said his team doesn’t belong in the same conversation as those teams yet.
“Well, I just don’t think we’re in that category yet,” Nash said, after Brooklyn was blown out in the third quarter despite Stephen Curry sitting for the majority of it with foul trouble. “We got a lot of work to do. We’re trying to improve as a group, get better and hopefully we can find a way to overcome some of our deficiencies by the end of the year.”
The Nets, at 10-5, sit a game behind the East-leading Washington Wizards and a half-game behind the Bulls in second. But despite their record, and their star power, Nash was disappointed with the way his team faded in the second half against Golden State — just as it did in the fourth quarter in Chicago last week.
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In facing a Warriors team that is steeped in corporate knowledge with the likes of coach Steve Kerr and stars Curry and Draymond Green — all of whom have been together for seven-plus seasons — the Nets repeatedly said continuity is something they’re going to have to spend the season catching up on.
“We’re just trying to get better every game,” Nets star James Harden said after finishing with 24 points, four rebounds and four assists. “The goal is to be the best team at the end of the season, in the postseason. That’s the goal. But probably not [there yet]. We’re probably nowhere near. But it’s a long season for us to get better, and we will continue to get better.”
Asked what it will take to get there, Harden talked about creating an identity for how to play at both ends — something the Warriors, at a league-leading 12-2 and beginning to resemble the teams that won the 2015 NBA title and made the 2016 NBA Finals before current Net Kevin Durant arrived in Golden State, have clearly established.
“We have to find our identity,” Harden said. “We’re still a brand-new team, so we still have to find out what we’re good at, what we’re great at, what we can be great at, and it’s gonna take a long season. But we’re, what, 14, 15 games in? So tonight’s game doesn’t really affect us at all. I don’t think anybody knows themselves well. Maybe the Warriors, because they’ve been together for a long time.”
That Golden State identity certainly came to the fore in the third quarter, when the Warriors — who have now outscored teams by a staggering 124 points in the third across their 14 games this season, by far the most in the NBA — turned up the heat at both ends, even as Curry sat with foul trouble. It was the avalanche that these Warriors would hit teams with when they were at their best, with Curry shooting from deep beyond the 3-point arc, Green wreaking havoc defensively and Golden State looking connected at both ends of the court in a way their opponents couldn’t keep up with.
“Yeah, the way the crowd energizes when Steph starts rising up from 30 feet — it’s everywhere,” Kerr said. “It happened in Charlotte the other night. It happened tonight. So I think the fact that our team is good again and is playing well and has a good record adds to what Steph brings to the table every night, in terms of his skill and showmanship. And so that stuff — when you’re winning and you get the incredible display of skill from Steph, people are going to watch. It’s fun to be back in the spotlight again. Our team is really enjoying being back here.”
The Nets looked powerless to stop it — even Durant, who had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night, scoring 19 points on 6-for-19 shooting. Curry, on the other hand, was electrifying, finishing with 37 points on 12-for-19 shooting, including going 9-for-14 from 3-point range, eliciting “MVP” chants from the crowd in Brooklyn. Curry admitted it was strange to hear that in an opposing building, which was notably pro-Warriors throughout the game.
“It was a combination,” Durant said in explaining his shooting woes, adding his recent bout with soreness in his right (shooting) shoulder did not factor into his off night. “They played great defense, they’ve got long defenders and guys that can help, sending bodies all the time when I had the ball. That’s what great defenses do. And there’s some shots I wish I could have back. I rushed it. Once we got down 18 or 20, I was trying to get it back so fast and was taking bad shots and rushed shots. It’s all part of the journey and understanding what level you need to be at every possession. This was a great test for us.”
It was also a test the Nets fell short in. And, for a team that was expected to be an offensive juggernaut this season — even while Kyrie Irving continues to be away from the team after declining to get a COVID-19 vaccine — it was another poor performance at that end.
The Nets shot just 39.1% from the field and went 10-for-36 (27.8%) from 3-point range. While Brooklyn has far exceeded expectations defensively and is tied for ninth in defensive efficiency with the Boston Celtics after Tuesday’s loss, the fact that the Nets sit 18th in offensive efficiency is jarring.
Nash admitted part of it is a hangover from the absence of Irving, who he reiterated before the game he continues to stay in contact with, although they don’t talk about basketball. Meanwhile, he has to try to coax his team in the direction it wants to go as it continues to try to build toward the sort of deep playoff run it expects to have — one that, based off current form, could potentially end with them facing these same Warriors in the NBA Finals.
“I think the guys have been great as far as buying into what we want to do defensively,” Nash said. “No one would have picked us as a top-10 defense to start the year, and we’re defending, we’re finding a way. I think offensively we have all these different lineups, different backgrounds, styles of play, 10 new players on our team. It takes time.
“We started the year with a continuity plan from last year that got thrown out the window obviously when [Irving] didn’t come back, so we’re trying to build and figure it out. But we played a really good defense. It really tests you. And I think tonight was a great lesson for us that we got to double down on some of our principles when the going gets tough.”
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