Just like that, the Nets are one game under .500.
Brooklyn faced off against a depleted Grizzlies team playing without their starting All-Star level backcourt, Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, and it took some time for the Nets to find their footing. However, after a big fourth-quarter push that came off a barrage of threes, the Nets cruised to their 8th victory of the season, winning 127-115.
Ben Simmons was the star of the show for Brooklyn, putting up a season-high 22 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists. It was by far his most aggressive performance in his short Brooklyn tenure, as the 26-year-old three-time All-Star made a consistent effort to put his head down and drive to the rim, where he made an array of flashy finishes. .
“I take it day by day,” said Simmons about his approach leading to his big breakout performance as a Net. “I try not to look too far ahead. I do what I can, I focus on myself and trying to get better each day. So I take it day by day. I don’t look too far ahead and worry about the things that I can’t control. I control but I can.”
Kevin Durant, meanwhile, kept his streak of scoring 25+ points alive, scoring 26 on the evening along with seven rebounds and seven assists. He’s the first player to do so in his first 17 games since Hall of Famer Rick Barry back in 1967.
Kyrie Irving had a fairly quiet showing in his first contest since his eight-game suspension, ending Sunday with 14 points and five assists. It’s clear he’s still getting his legs under him, as his at-rim finishing, handle, and defense were a little rickety.
“I mean, you saw me dribbling the ball out there,” said Irving after the game. “The ball was just miraculously just going on my hands so there’s just some rust, and you know, just get back into NBA basketball. There’s no way I can create NBA basketball when I’m just sitting at home with my friends as much as I want to compete with them as much as I love it’s just nothing like being out there.”
Then there was YUTA! Yuta Watanabe was exceptional once again, putting up 16 points in 24 minutes. Watanabe, whose 57.1% three-point percentage leads the NBA, went 4-of-6 for deep, and his 3-point shooting in the fourth quarter was a major reason the Nets got across the finish line with the victory. With Jacque Vaughn giving him more minutes, Watanabe is averaging 14.5 points over the Nets last four games.
“Yuta is definitely knocking it down right now,” said Kevin Durant after the game. “He’s shooting the ball extremely well for us, spacing the floor. But he’s also driving the ball when he catches it, he’s making the right play right now. I think when you make the right play, those shots feel a little better leaving your hand.”
Memphis was led by Dillon Brooks (31 points) and Steven Adams (15 points and 10 rebounds).
Three-point shooting played a major factor in deciding this one, as Brooklyn nailed 47.1% of their 34 threes, while the Grizzlies went just 32.4% from deep. Brooklyn also got a fairly balanced attack as all five Brooklyn starters reached double figures. Most importantly, the Nets didn’t get crushed in the rebounding department (45-44, Nets), a category Memphis has historically dominated Brooklyn in.
Both teams got off to hot starts; Brooklyn made five of its first six shots while Memphis went 6-of-10 before the first timeout break. Dillon Brooks had it going early, filling the box score with six early points on an array of jumpers. His teammate, Steven Adams, pitched in as well with eight points and two rebounds before the second Brooklyn timeout against a small-ball lineup with Simmons at center. In the end, Memphis finished the first quarter ahead, 28-29.
Speaking of Simmons, he was the engine for Brooklyn’s offense in the second quarter. He opened the period by scoring on a post-up against Santi Aldama, generated a 3-pointer the next possession, and then scored a left-handed (!) layup on what was arguably the best drive of the season. Royce O’Neale, meanwhile, couldn’t miss from three, canning 4 of his first 5 looks from deep including a pull-up three-ball that forced a Memphis timeout.
Simmons continued his strong play, canning a reverse layup off a give-and-go with Kevin Durant to break the 10-point mark with just over 4 minutes to play in the second. He followed that up with a sweet right-handed floater a few possessions later. Brooklyn’s 3-point defense, however, gave way to three straight long-range looks against the Grizz. As such, Memphis finished the half ahead 62-57.
Simmons continued to lead the dance for the Nets, raising his total to 20 with 7:23 remaining in the third (well above his season-high of 15, which he set in Portland). Still, the Grizz lived up to their Grit and Grind nickname, with four of their five starters in double figures by the end of the third quarter. KD finally got it going to end the third quarter after his uncharacteristically slow start, scoring 9 points in the final three minutes to give his Nets the 96-93 advantage heading into the third.
Brooklyn began the fourth on a quick 5-0 run to build its biggest advantage of the night—8 points—after Yuta Watanabe canned a three for Simmons’ fourth assist of the game. Watanabe hit another shortly after from the corner and then made a sweet pass to a cutting Kyrie Irving. Yuta wasn’t finished, canning yet another Three-ball from the very same corner and then a fourth near the right wing. Suddenly, the Nets were staring at a 16-point advantage with six minutes to spare in the fourth.
Yuta’s four threes effectively gave the Nets the runway they needed to cruise to victory. In the end, the blowout that was expected eventually came to fruition against a depleted Grizzlies team.
The Film Room
Ben Simmons continues to look better with every passing game.
His performance was just the appetizer. Against Memphis, he was even better. Physically, he looked like the perennial all-star we saw in Philadelphia. His lift while elevating for finishes near the rim was there, and there was genuine elasticity when twisting and contorting for layups—a welcomed sign for a player still finding his groove after back surgery.
There was just a sense of confidence when Ben scored on the move. The give-and-go mentioned earlier with Kevin Durant was a great example of that. First off, it was great to see Ben cutting towards the rim in the first place, but he also looked as cool as a cucumber catching and finishing the reverse on the move.
His first make of the game was a precursor of times to come: a smooth left-handed hook shot over his left shoulder after Steven Adams took away the driving lane.
It was also encouraging to see Ben call his own number as the roll-man. Earlier in the year, Simmons would likely have passed out of the 4-on-3 advantage in the short roll after setting the screen, picked his dribble and reset up top, or even taken a bad floater. Not on Sunday. Instead, Ben dribbled all the way down to the restricted circle, switched hands midair, and calmly made the layup off the glass.
This was maybe Ben’s best finish of all. Initially, he appeared as if he was going to flow into a dribble-handoff with Kevin Durant, but then, noticing that Steven Adams’ weight was leaning toward Brooklyn’s best player, Simmons crossed to his left, absorbed contact, and finished with his right. . Vintage stuff from one of the better transition players in the league when he’s got it going.
Unsurprisingly, Simmons attracted more defensive attention with his scoring game going, and that allowed him to showcase his best offensive skill: his passing. Here, he flashed a variety of dribbles against Jake LaRavia, which caused Kennedy Chandler to cheat down off Joe Harris, opening up the three.
Holistically, this wasn’t Brooklyn’s best performance. The defense was iffy, to put it lightly, and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were fairly muted by their high standards for most of the game. But from a macro perspective, none of that really matters. Seeing Ben Simmons play like this and show increasing comfort with every game is what matters in the grand scheme of things.
We’ve already talked about Kevin Durant’s streak, but here’s a fun fact about Ben Simmons, per Alex Schiffer: This is Simmons’ first game of 20 or more points since Game 2 against the Wizards in the first round of the 2021 playoffs. That was in May. You’d have to go back to March of that year to find a regular season came of 20 or more points.
Yuta Watanabe reached double figures in a career-high four straight games. In that four-game stretch, Watanabe is averaging 14.5 points on 14-of-22 shooting overall (62.5%) and 12-of-20 (60.0%) from deep and 6-of-7 (85.7%) from the line. He’s also averaging 4.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists in what has become the best stretch of his career.
Meanwhile, Kristian Winfield notes that Kevin Durant jumped over Draymond Green as the league leader in technical fouls, picking up his seventh. Durant just picked up his seventh tech when complaining about a missed foul call and gesturing towards an official. “Per NBA rules, after tech #16, Durant will be suspended 1 game,” Winfield reported.
Irving doesn’t answer questions about supporters
As they did prior to the Nets last home game, a group of Black Hebrew Israelites gathered outside Barclays Center to support Kyrie Irving. Israel United In Christ is part of the Black Hebrew Israelites movement…
The group, dressed in purple and gold, numbered several hundred.
Jaylen Brown, like Kyrie Irving, a players’ union vice-president, reacted to the videos of the group…
But later, Brown tried to clarify things…
I was not aware of what specific group that was outside Barclay’s Center tonight. I was celebrating the unification of our people welcoming the return of Kyrie to the court, first glance I thought it was a known fraternity the (C/Que’s) Omega psi phi (step’n) showing support
— Jaylen Brown (@FCHWPO) November 21, 2022
Isiah Thomas, the Hall of Famer and an analyst for NBA TV, also posted the video on Twitter with a caption that said, “Let it be known.”
Both the Anti-Discrimination League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have criticized some members of the movement as anti-Semitic, specifically quoting the Church’s own comments. Their messaging is at the core of the video Irving publicized back on October 26, “From Hebrews to Negroes.”
The group handed out flyers explaining their positions.
In his post-game press availability, Irving told reporters he would not be commenting on the support of the group but stick to the Grizzlies game.
“I think that’s a conversation for another day. I’m just here to focus on the game.” he said stoically post-game when pressed.
“I would like to be on a platform where I could openly share how I feel without being harshly criticized or being labeled or dealing with outside perceptions that have nothing to do with me.”
Will Irving file a grievance?
Irving also did not rule out filing a grievance against the Nets through the players’ union.
“I’ve got to leave that to my legal team and leave it to the warriors I have around me. I have strong people, men and women who are going to do everything possible to make sure that I am protected and my family is protected and we protect each other so you know. I’m sure some things will be done in the future. There’s no timetable on that right now,” Irving said.
Missing eight games cost Irving roughly $3.5 million — $437,000 per game.
Brooklyn heads to Philadelphia to take on a depleted 76ers team that will be playing without Tyrese Maxey and James Harden. Ben Simmons and Seth Curry will play, however. Coverage begins at 7:30 PM ET on TNT.
For a different perspective of tonight’s game, head to Grizzly Bear Bluesour Grizzlies sister site.