If you’re looking for the definition of a “trap game,” Wednesday night’s matchup between the Nets and Atlanta Hawks is about as close as you’ll get.
The Nets entered Wednesday night the hottest team in basketball with the league’s longest-standing winning streak. They looked to extend that streak against a Hawks team playing the second leg of a back-to-back.
Without All-Star point guard Trae Young.
That, however, is why it’s called a trap game — because teams, especially teams on a roll, have a tendency to lower their guard against a perceived lesser opponent.
The Hawks haven’t fared well in back-to-backs this season, and they generally don’t fare well when Young isn’t on the floor.
The Nets of old succumbed to trap games often. These Nets continue to buck that trend.
Which is why Brooklyn’s 108-107 victory in Atlanta is about as impressive as any performance the team has had, save for their back-to-back wins over the Bucks and Cavaliers and the 136-133 victory over the Indiana Pacers without any key role players available.
Because the Hawks indeed set a trap that caught the Nets in their tracks — before Brooklyn shook loose to make it 10 in a row.
“[Winning 10 in a row] sounds good, especially since there’s just been an up and down vibe with our team the past few years,” Kevin Durant said postgame. “So it’s good to win a game and have some fun.”
The Hawks built a 15-point second-quarter lead in part due to Jacque Vaughn’s first truly confusing move since taking Steve Nash’s post as head coach in Brooklyn. His rotations have traditionally been tight, even tighter when it comes to the two superstars: Durant normally plays the entire first quarter, while Kyrie Irving traditionally sits the final few minutes of the first to lead the reserves in the second quarter while Durant gets a rest.
On Wednesday, Vaughn veered from the norm. He played both Irving and Durant the entire opening period — and sat both of Brooklyn’s stars to start the second quarter
Of course the Hawks went on a run and built a lead five points shy of 20. Vaughn had a lineup of Patty Mills, Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Yuta Watanabe and T.J. Warren on the floor until taking a timeout at the 5:25 mark of the second quarter.
Some believed it was an attempt to cut down on minutes for Irving, Durant and Royce O’Neale, who each ranked high in minutes per game and total minutes before the load managing began. Other Nets’ fans on Twitter believe it was the organization attempting to showcase Mills — a veteran point guard who has largely been outside of the rotation — for a potential trade.
Vaughn clarified postgame that both he and Hawks coach Nate McMillan ran their first units the full 12 minutes of the first quarter because neither wanted to use an extra timeout in the opening period. In the second quarter, Hawks sixth man Bogdan Bogdanovic got loose.
The Hawks caught the Nets’ coach in the trap first. The Nets dug themselves a hole they never would have been in with normal rotations in the first half.
The second half was business as usual. The Nets chipped away at Atlanta’s lead entering the half and built their own lead as large as 13. This is what happens, however, when you have to expend energy to dig yourself out of a hole. By the time they did so, the game became a seesaw affair in the final period.
Durant finished with 26 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists on the night. It marked a career-high in rebounds for Durant, as well as the second double-double of his career.
“To be honest I think my teammates did a great job boxing-out,” Durant said postgame. “And I was just reaping the benefits of that.”
Irving finished with a game-high 28 points with five made threes. Without Young, Dejounte Murray scored 24 and John Collins scored 21 points for the Hawks. Mills scored 12 off the bench, and Nic Claxton tallied 17 points, 10 rebounds and another six blocked shots.
The Nets now look to make it 11 in a row in Charlotte against the Hornets on New Years Eve.