Brooklyn Nets: Three Takeaways from Win over Chicago Bulls (5/11/2021)

As the Brooklyn Nets’ last road trip of the regular season ended in Chicago on Tuesday night, the last chapter of the year began. With the finish line within reach, Brooklyn just has to stay healthy and win some games vs. sub-.500 teams, and they’ll be sitting pretty.

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The Nets’ pursuit of the No. 2 seed was aided by the San Antonio Spurs back on Monday. San Antonio’s drubbing of the Milwaukee Bucks placed the Nets’ fate back in their own hands. If Brooklyn wins their final four games of the regular season, it’ll secure home-court advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Tuesday night, the Nets met those objectives with mixed results.

Here are three takeaways from Brooklyn’s 115-107 win vs. the Chicago Bulls, which represents the first win in that set:

The Nets Come out with Urgency

It may not be Brooklyn’s Achilles’ heel, but slow starts against lesser opponents have been a recurring theme in 2021. Therefore, the Nets bursting out of the gates with a purpose against Chicago was a refreshing sight, no doubt. This was especially nice after what felt like a spiritually significant comeback in their previous game against the Denver Nuggets. That win that left a sweet taste in everyone’s mouth with the promise of a lingering effect. Steve Nash cited the Nets not coming up with “hypothetical solutions” against Denver, but rather winning with plain old toughness.

As cliché as that may sound, that collective mindset was evident aganst Chicago from the jump. The Nets, the more talented roster, decided not to play with their food. But they didn’t decide to disrespect it, either.

Brooklyn built an eight-point lead just five possessions into the game, and there was nothing schematic about it. And while the Bulls made various mini-runs throughout the night, Chicago never trimmed the Nets’ lead below six. The Bulls never fully recovered from the opening body blow and fought an uphill battle all night. Simply put, the Nets had a juice that can be hard to quantify, but harder to miss.

Irving Departs with a Face Injury

On a night where Bruce Brown unveiled his new identity as a masked man, it was Kyrie Irving‘s facial construction that became a main worry.

Irving was on the unfortunate end of a blow from Nikola Vučević‘s elbow that left him strewn on the hardwood for five minutes or so. Every Net on the road trip gathered around to help him up, which was, no matter how insignificant, something nice to see. But mere minutes after he exited the game, the team announced he’d miss the rest of the contest with a “facial contusion.” That didn’t provide Nets fans with any sort of relief. It doesn’t take a medical degree to see Irving’s face was contused, to say the least. And that verbiage didn’t do anything to dissolve the big “C-word” worry.

Fortunately, after the game, Nash told reporters there were “no signs” of a concussion, although the star guard was set for another X-ray. While this looks to hopefully, possibly, probably be an issue with a shorter timespan than the pesky hamstrings that have affected the Nets, it’s far from good news. This is the time for Brooklyn to get, and stay, healthy; if that time hasn’t been all year. James Harden, ever close to a return, looked to be the last piece of the puzzle heading into the postseason. Now, Irving’s face is in the mix as another potential worry. Just when the waters began to calm, a gust of wind bodyslammed a crew member on the deck.

The story of the Nets season, I suppose.

Brown and Claxton Persist

Irving’s injury was really the only negative of the night, even if it’s legitimate cause for concern. Strictly basketball-wise, most every Net who saw the floor shone. And Brown and Nic Claxton led the charge of the role players.

It’s hard to believe that merely four months ago, the NBA sphere snickered over the perceived lack of depth Brooklyn had post-Harden trade. It wasn’t unjustified, though—the Nets lost two high-level bench players and had just lost another starter to an ACL injury.

But Brown and Claxton, among others, have washed away those snickers, at least for the regular season. And they did their thing again on Tuesday.

How Brown has seemingly re-wired his basketball brain in less than a year with the Nets, without a proper training camp, is nearly unfathomable. Brown was just about a true point guard in college and assumed 80 to 90 percent of that role with the Pistons. Then, Brooklyn traded for him, then traded for Harden. The team told Brown if he wanted to see the floor, he had to play an entirely different role than he’s ever played at any level of ball. And so, he did.

Brown makes savvy cuts along the baseline like he’s brushing his teeth. He sees the stars get doubled and flashes to the high post. He’ll catch the ball on the perimeter and quickly snap an extra swing pass, or flow into a handoff and roll with Irving. He now has the instincts of a guy who came out of the womb at 6’9″, but he can still slide those feet at a high level on defense. His height may be an issue when it comes to his offensive effectiveness in the muck of the postseason, but let’s forget about that for a second. Let’s enjoy Brown for what he’s done this year. It’s nothing short of incredible. And it helped lead him to 15-and-10 against Chicago, and the Nets to a win.

Meanwhile, Claxton was his usual self on defense, and by that, I mean really freaking good. The put-back dunk will, and should, get most of the attention; rebounding looks like his best offensive skill so far. But it’s still not sensible how good Claxton is on defense. Vučević, a first-ballot hall-of-fame Nets-killer, had no luck trying to shove him around down low, or shoot over the tetherball poles he calls arms. And, in typical Claxton fashion, he switched onto Zach LaVine with positive results for a few possessions as well. More than any individual one-on-one stops, however, Claxton was simply everywhere. It’s another “know-it-when-you-see-it” type deal. Forget any numbers. Opponents have a much tougher time scoring on Brooklyn when Claxton is on the court. And how could they not?