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Nets need to give ‘more’ vs Kyrie, Mavs

Coach Vaughn asking for greater effort after loss to Cavs

October 26, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Nets are going to Dallas on Friday night to open a four-game road trip, and face Kyrie Irving and the Mavericks for the first time since he was traded out of Brooklyn in February.

Head coach Jacque Vaughn is still wondering how his team blew a late six-point lead to Cleveland on Opening Night at Downtown’s Barclays Center Wednesday.

“I told the guys, ‘We have to be the more team. More accountability, more physical, more disruptive, more communicative.'” Vaughn intimated after the Nets suffered a heartbreaking 114-113 defeat to Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers in front of a sellout crowd of 17,931 disappointed fans.

Mitchell scored 27 points, including nine in the last 2 1/2 minutes, as Cleveland stunned Brooklyn on a night Cam Thomas came off the bench and made NBA history by scoring 36 points in only 25 minutes.

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“I feel like we played well,” Thomas told the Associated Press. “We got off to a slow start (at) the beginning, so we had to fight back for three quarters (and) it’s a tough thing to do against a good team like Cleveland.”

Priding themselves on defense, the Nets (0-1) faltered down the stretch after building a 111-105 lead on two free throws by Mikal Bridges with 1:24 left in regulation.

Mitchell, who had knotted the contest at 105-105 less than a minute earlier, took control thereafter. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard out of Louisville drilled a 21-foot pull-up jumper to spark Cleveland’s late rally.

Nets shooting guard Cam Thomas came off the bench and set an NBA record for points by a reserve on Opening Night. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

He threw down a dunk to knot the contest at 111-111 with 41.1 ticks remaining and answered two more free throws from Bridges by hitting a 3-pointer to cap the scoring with 12.1 seconds remaining.

“The thing about our team is that we’re really resilient,” Mitchell said. “When the games are close … you have to be locked in defensively. For me, when it’s time, just kind of picking my spots and kind of getting to where I wanted to.”

Thomas, who set an NBA record for points by a reserve in an opener, went 13-of-21 from the floor and 8-of-11 at the line.

The third-year guard was held to only three points over the final 12 minutes, misfiring on a potential game-winning 3-ball with from 27 feet out with 1.1 showing on the clock.

“Cam was supposed to (get) it to Mikal. I couldn’t call a timeout,” Vaughn revealed of the final sequence. “I’m across halfcourt trying to, though.”

Brooklyn squandered an opportunity to hit the road off the high of what appeared to be a hard-earned win.

However, Vaughn could see that perhaps his team didn’t give enough down the stretch despite overcoming a 37-point first quarter by the Cavaliers.

“Cleveland was extremely physical with us throughout the course of the game, even through the last few possessions,” he noted.

Bridges finished with 20 points and Cameron Johnson added 12 for the Nets, who won the rebounding battle, 50-38, but turned the ball over 17 times, including 10 in the second half.

Max Strus, filling in for injured center and former Net Jarrett Allen (ankle), matched Mitchell with 27 points and added 12 rebounds for the Cavaliers (1-0), who went 17-for-43 (39 percent) from 3-point range while committing only 10 turnovers.

“We just have so (many) talented guys on this roster,” Strus noted. “It’s going to be anybody’s night any given game. Up and down the roster … anybody can step up and play for us.”

Dorian Finney-Smith, who came to Brooklyn along with Spencer Dinwiddie in the deadline deal that sent Irving to the Mavericks, had 10 points, as did reserve point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

But the Nets only made nine 3-pointers and got a meager 16 points combined from starters Nic Claxton, Dinwiddie and Ben Simmons, who did grab 10 rebounds and hand out nine assists in the first game of what he hopes will be a big comeback season in Brooklyn.

The Nets will try to shake this one off quick as they begin an eight-day trip across several times zones.

Irving, who was a highly productive but enigmatic player in Brooklyn after arriving here alongside fellow superstar Kevin Durant in the summer of 2019, had 22 points in Dallas’ season-opening 126-119 win in San Antonio Wednesday.

Kyrie Irving will face his former teammates for the first time since being traded to the Mavericks in February when Brooklyn visits Dallas Friday. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

The Nets would like to get off to a better start and, more importantly, finish up strong when they see their ex-teammate Friday.

“We have to be the more team,” Vaughn reiterated. “That’s who we are. This is a great test for us to see how we are going to finish games.”

NOTHING BUT NET: The Cavs not only spoiled the opener for Brooklyn fans, but they also posted their first season-opening win on the road since 2000. … Simmons, who went 2-of-6 from the field and committed two turnovers, played 23 minutes. Vaughn said in the postgame press conference that he wanted to limit his starters’ minutes in the early going, but Bridges logged a team-high 35 minutes. … After visiting Irving and the Mavs, the Nets will head to Charlotte Monday, Miami on Wednesday and finish up in Chicago on Nov. 3. Brooklyn will return to the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush on Nov. 4 vs. Boston to open a three-game homestand.

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