Kathy Willens / Associated Press
Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets know where they want to go, a fact highlighted in the All-Star playmaker’s comments following Tuesday’s 124-120 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
“We know they’re in the running to meet us later, “Irving said clips defeated on TNT. “So we wanted to make a good impression and we did.”
If a team has the right to think about sending a message before a possible final game in early February, they might as well be the one with the extreme power of the Nets. You don’t form a constellation like this unless you intend to become a supernova.
The Nets came out against the Clippers on Tuesday, marrying a timely defense (no, seriously!) With incendiary scoring and offensive harmony. In doing so, they broadcast a signal that their journey was not limited to reaching the final.
Brooklyn could be the team that will keep the entire NBA pushing its limits for years to come.
While the trendline is not perfectly straight, the offense is on the rise, from a league-wide offensive rating of 104.6 ten years ago to a record 110.9 this year. The math (three is more than two) has a lot to do with it, but so does a crop of players high to shoot, manipulate, and score from high-value areas regardless of size or position. .
To say the Nets reunited Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant because they were looking to open up a new offensive track to a title might give them too much credit. The goal, as further evidenced by the hiring of Steve Nash as head coach, could have been simpler – just get stars and splash. But Brooklyn’s staff and their extreme reliance on offense makes undeniable meaning with the direction the league has taken over the past decade.
Brooklyn’s makeup also goes against the league situation.
Over the past two decades, the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers have been the only team to win a championship with a worse-ranked defense than 11th, according to Ryan Blackburn of Denver Stiffs. By the time the Nets added Harden to a roster that already had a surplus of points at the expense of defense and depth, it was clear they were ready to challenge cliché and convention.
Defense wins championships? Yeah, we’ll see about that.
Critically, Brooklyn’s defense was just good enough against the Clippers.
The Nets pitched Jeff Green at 5, allowing for a switching system of everything. Although the Clippers quickly took the lead, Brooklyn’s tactic paid off. Los Angeles doesn’t have a conventional playmaker to move their attack when the switches block the pick-and-roll; Brooklyn has caused isolation attacks and stagnation for an offense already predisposed to stand.
Don’t be misled. The Clips entered Tuesday’s loss with an offensive rating just a tenth of a point worse than Brooklyn’s second-place offense. LA can score like few other teams. But in addition to an effective change, the Nets got some reliable individual defense from Harden (especially in the post), active hands from Irving and a few “dude, that dude is long“Durant’s rim contest.
This approach can work for Brooklyn. If the Nets push their opponents into head-to-head basketball, it’s a win. Movement, screens, communication – this is where the Nets get into trouble over D. They are best when things are simple, when their capable individual defenders can lock themselves into a challenge head on.
Summoning the right level of effort doesn’t hurt either.
The Nets’ record against quality teams suggests they can reach this level on command.
The offense will take Brooklyn most nights, and while we spent some time discussing defense, Tuesday was still part of it.
The Nets Big Three worked together to take the late lead in Los Angeles, not so much taking turns as seizing opportunities whenever they presented themselves. Irving scored a season-high 39 points and recorded the most strengths, but Durant (28 points on 11 of 13 shots) and Harden (23 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds) were hardly spectators.
The Nets gave up on the D, and it often felt like the Clippers could have been more patient, trusted their advantages and settled the game. But it’s hard to stay calm with the ball when Brooklyn does. never when he has it. You can feel the clips feel the pressure and fight the urgency. They had to score because the Nets were sure to do so when they got the ball back.
It’s not like Brooklyn ran away with that play. Yes, it was up 10 after Durant pierced a patented left wing trey pull-up with 1:55 left. But the Clippers reduced that advantage to a single point late in the process. It shows just how slim the Nets’ margin of error is, even with such a good offense.
Defensively, Brooklyn will never be great. His 25th in defensive odds and 27th since the acquisition of Harden. The buyout market will not save the Nets. Anyone who can find to bolster the defense won’t play past Irving, Harden, Durant or Joe Harris in the greatest moments of the games that matter most.
In order for Brooklyn to reach the destination he’s already thinking of, he’ll do so with a bewildering offense and just enough – just barely enough – on D. If the Nets go all the way this way, it will be a first.
But it cannot be denied that the league is leaning more and more towards attack. And it cannot be denied that there is a first time for everything.
Statistics provided by NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through the matches played on Tuesday February 2.