There’s bullyball, and then there’s whatever kind of beating the Pelicans inflicted Wednesday night on the Nets.
There were only two good things about the Nets’ 130-108 loss: Kevin Durant had a big night and everybody came through it uninjured. Other than that, it was about as disastrous a season opener as the Nets could’ve pictured in their nightmares, as they were physically dominated before 18,003 at Barclays Center.
The Nets were hammered 36-4 on second-chance points. Let that sink in and marinate, before moving on to the fact they were outrebounded 61-39 and outplayed all game long.
Ben Simmons made his long-awaited Nets debut, joining Durant and Kyrie Irving in a new Big 3. On Wednesday, however, they looked like a Big 1: Durant was the only one excelling, while the other two alternated between poor and invisible against New Orleans and Zion Williamson.
Durant did his part with a game-high 32 points and four blocked shots. But the rest of the Nets’ attack looked impotent and inefficient. They created some makeable looks, but couldn’t knock them down – probably because they were busy getting knocked around by New Orleans.
Both the Nets and Simmons have said he’ll have to be aggressive, and the engine that drives the team.
“If I’m not aggressive, this team’s not going,” Simmons said beforehand. “If I’m not pushing the ball, if I’m not finding my guys, if I’m not getting to the rim, then those easy shots that we get now are not going to happen. So I’ve got to be the motor. “
But that motor understandably looked to be rusted over in Simmons’ first game since June 20, 2021. He missed all of last season with mental health issues and a herniated disk that required surgery.
Simmons, who was acquired from the 76ers for James Harden in February, wasn’t aggressive enough on the offensive end, and took the aggression overboard on defense. He fouled out with just four points on 2-for-3 shooting (both baskets coming on dunks), and added five rebounds and five assists.
Irving struggled to hit open looks. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-19 shooting, but had just four points on 2-for-9 from the floor in the first half. By that time, the Nets had been bludgeoned and battered around to set the tone.
Simmons wasn’t the only All-Star coming back after missing last season. Williamson’s return went far more swimmingly. The burly Pelicans star, who returned from a broken foot in his first game since May 2021, roughed the Nets up for 25 points and nine rebounds.
Brandon Ingram scored a New Orleans-high 28 points while center Jonas Valanciunas added 15 points and a game-high 13 boards – six on the offensive glass.
Physicality has always been a concern for the Nets, but games like this raise the DEFCON level.
The Nets fell behind by seven right out of the gate, and coach Steve Nash called a timeout with his team down 11-2. It didn’t help, and they were thoroughly outclassed by New Orleans in almost every way early on.
The Pelicans led 32-14 after the Nets’ wretched first quarter, in which they shot 6-for-20, committed nine turnovers and were outrebounded 18-8.
As the Nets were bullied on the offensive glass by Williamson and Valanciunas, the Pelicans grabbed an 11-0 edge in second-chance points.
With the Nets still down 54-40 with 2:24 left in the first half, Durant came alive with eight points, two blocks (one on an Ingram dunk attempt) and a steal the rest of the way. Royce O’Neale’s putback of his own miss to beat the buzzer pulled the Nets within eight going into the locker room.
That mini-momentum didn’t last long after they came back out.
Simmons picked up fouls four and five, and an Ingram three-point left the Nets down 82-59. Durant hit a 3-pointer to push it to 87-62, and even though the clock read 4:09 left in the third quarter this bloodletting was over.