Warriors head coach Steve Kerr tried to downplay Jacque Vaughn’s importance to the Nets’ success in recent weeks.
Success that continued with Brooklyn’s unpacking of a severely shorthanded Golden State roster via a 143-113 rout that extended the Nets’ winning streak to seven games in a row and 18 wins in their last 24 outings on Wednesday night, a mark that correlates with Nash’s dismissal and Vaughn’s promotion.
Kerr said Brooklyn’s stretch has been almost unequivocally due to the team getting healthy and not a consequence of the Nets’ midseason coaching change that sent Kerr’s good friend Steve Nash out the door.
“It’s not a surprise to me that he’s doing well and that the team is doing well because it’s really been a matter of health,” Kerr said on Wednesday. “Things seem to have settled down and they’ve gotten healthy. Not a surprise that they’re clicking, but Jacque deserves credit for helping them get through the storm.”
Vaughn deserves more than credit for helping the Nets get through the storm. He should be an early Coach of the Year candidate for resetting the culture in Brooklyn after it appeared all but lost.
Wednesday marked the second time Kerr has discussed the Nets as they pertain to Nash’s job security. On Nov. 1, the Warriors’ coach also said coaches need “a solid situation to thrive in this league,” and roped Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra into the loop.
“You throw either one of us [Kerr or Spoelstra] in [Nash’s] situation, we wouldn’t have done any better than Steve,” Kerr said at the time. “And that’s the truth.”
And yet here the Nets are, with Vaughn leading the charge: They were a combustible group sitting on a 2-5 record when Nash was ousted. The Nets now sit within arms reach of the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed just a game-and-a-half behind Donovan Mitchell’s Cleveland Cavaliers and a bit further behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.
And wins like the victory the Nets secured against the Warriors are exactly why Brooklyn is rolling out of holiday season on a high — though the team will assuredly face a reality check with the aforementioned Bucks and Cavaliers next up on the docket.
The Nets can’t help that they haven’t played championship contenders all season long. Take that gripe up with the league office.
What they did on Wednesday night — and what they’ve done during this season-swinging stretch — is where they fell short time and time again under Nash, both at the beginning of this season and in games taking back to his debut in Brooklyn.
They have beaten lesser quality opponents with regularity. They have approached every game as if it matters.
Where Nash stood at the podium speechless with no answer of how to get more out of a group he admitted stopped listening to him, Vaughn has challenged and demanded more. Where Nash let one bad play snowball into an extended run for the opponent, Vaughn calls timeout, lights into his team, and sends them back on out onto the floor.
It happened twice as the Nets hung a franchise record 91 points on Golden State in the first half and one more time in the fourth quarter: Vaughn called a timeout when Draymond Green got to the lane and dumped the ball off to Kevon Looney for an easy, uncontested layup. The score was 8-4. The Nets responded by finishing the first quarter with a 46-17 lead.
He called another timeout when the Nets built a 37-point lead that the Warriors whittled down to 30. Brooklyn’s lead ballooned as large as 44.
And he called a third timeout a minute and four seconds into the fourth quarter — garbage time — when Patrick Baldwin Jr. hit a three that sent the Warriors on an 8-3 run that made it a 25-point game in the final period. The Warriors cut Brooklyn’s lead to as little as 18 before the Nets responded with back-to-back stops and back-to-back threes to put the game back out of reach.
Save for a handful of games during the Big Three era — namely the unpacking of the Chicago Bulls in Brooklyn’s coming of age game in the 2020-21 season — the Nets have never looked this good.
They are inching closer and closer toward well-oiled machine status. They are proving they are, indeed, not one of “them,” with “them” being the championship pretenders with delusions of grandeur.
Jordan Poole and Green were only two notable Warriors to suit up on Wednesday. Stephen Curry is out an extended period with his first-ever shoulder injury. Klay Thompson rested in the second game of a back-to-back the night after the Warriors were thoroughly unraveled by the New York Knicks. All-Star forward Andrew Wiggins continues to miss time with a groin injury. Nets star Kyrie Irving was also a late scratch due to right calf tightness.
The Warriors are not in good shape. They are battered entering the New Year and have only played 12 games with a mostly healthy roster this season.
Those are the kinds of teams, however, the Nets struggled to put away in seasons past. It’s called the “trap game,” where a team favored to win by a significant amount plays down to the competition, leaving the door cracked for an undermanned or outmatched team to steal a victory.
The Nets had tons of those under Nash. They have happened with far less frequency under Vaughn.
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