CLEVELAND — Before leading his team to its ninth straight victory — a 125-117 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night — Brooklyn Nets coach Jacque Vaughn acknowledged what he thought was the key to his team’s recent hot play.
“Basketball,” Vaughn said before the game. “We haven’t gotten away from today that is today. The most important part of today is that we’re trying to win this ball game. When we walk into the gym every day, it’s all about basketball. How are we going to take care of each other? ” others on the ground, cover each other on the ground, it’s all about basketball.”
It was a notable difference for many across the league who have seen the talented group go from an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs to the hottest team in the NBA, one that tied for the longest winning streak in the league after Monday’s performance by the night.
“From the outside looking in,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said before the game, “it looks like basketball is the main thing.”
That doesn’t always seem to be the case for the Nets. After having a difficult start on the pitch, Kyrie Irving he came under fire after he shared a social media post promoting a film containing anti-Semitic ideas and was subsequently suspended for eight games. Steve Nash was dropped as head coach shortly thereafter.
Vaughn says he helped get the team back on track by keeping things simple.
“I’m a simple person,” Vaughn said after Monday’s game. “And I really try to keep things simple. And I really emphasized what was going to be beneficial to our team. And if that was the amount of time we spent on shots, the amount of time we shaved off.” [off] and we kept our guys fresh, to give an extreme amount of effort when we played. And that was the goal, we created a little momentum that way.
“We clean up our playbook a little bit, we’re simple in what we do … we make our guys play extremely free-minded. I think there’s something important in that if you’re going to ask your guys to play hard.”
Vaughn took over as interim head coach on November 1 after Nash and the Nets parted ways before becoming full-time coach a week later. He pointed to a Nov. 4 target practice in Washington, DC, as a turning point for the group’s season. It was there, before a game against the Washington Wizards, and less than a day after Irving’s suspension ended, that Vaughn spoke to the group and was “as vulnerable as he could be.”
Vaughn’s message was simple.
“I’m going to try to be as consistent as possible with you every day,” he told his team. “And as honest as I can.”
The simplicity in Vaughn’s message, followed by the MVP-level play of Kevin Durant, is the reason why the Nets have completely changed their season. Their confidence on the ground is palpable, they’re getting contributions from top to bottom on the roster and they’ve focused on what’s in front of them. This is the Nets’ longest winning streak since the 2005-06 season, their 13th win in their last 14 games, and they are now 10-1 in December.
“We’re playing both ends, competing hard,” Nets forward Royce O’Neale explained. “Everybody’s taking responsibility. Defensively, we’re supporting each other, and offensively we’re making great shots and everybody’s being selfless.”
In particular, Durant said he felt the Nets’ focus has been where it needed to be all along.
“To be honest, I think we’ve always worried about the ball,” Durant said after scoring 32 points in Monday’s win. “No disrespect to what you guys do, I just think that the outside world, with the media and the fans, just makes it seem like we don’t care about the game or that we’re not focused on the task at hand, but I thought that’ I’ve always been like this [about being focused]. It’s a fact that you don’t have much to talk about outside of the game, so that doesn’t add to the discussion around our team.”
It’s worth noting that Durant, like many within the organization, has acknowledged his frustration with the whole situation in the wake of Irving’s suspension and his team’s struggles. But those days seem far off as the Nets have changed the tenor of their season by continuing their winning streak.
“Everybody has a platform,” Durant said. “So there are so many voices talking about what we do inside our locker room, when they really don’t have an idea, I think that’s the noise you hear. But from us it’s always been about the game. We had problems early on, I don’t say that we didn’t have problems, but we always focused on playing basketball. I think other people were trying to find things to put on our team, tag our team, whatever. I know the Kyrie stuff may be what you’re talking about, but I feel like we’ve always been about the game, always.”
Durant said that while he had to explain the situation to those close to him, he also praised Vaughn for the way he has made things easier for the group.
“I had so many friends like, ‘Yo, K, you okay, man?'” Durant said. “’Man, there’s so much crazy between you guys.’ I’m like, ‘Really? He’s actually not that crazy. Like we don’t talk about this shit, we walk in, go to work and go home.’ There’s more noise outside, to be honest, and it’s been that way since day one, but what we did was simplify both ends of basketball.
“And he reinforced our roles individually, the coach reinforced our roles, and pretty much every day what he needed from us, and I think that’s been the focus. So it’s not like, ‘Man, we finally got the noise out of our locker. room.’ I just think we’ve always been focused on basketball and trying to help us get this back on track.”
While Durant tried to keep the focus on how strong he thinks their team mentality has been, Vaughn admitted that the key has been that the group eliminated all distractions off the court, allowing the Nets to focus on improving.
“It’s definitely part of it,” Vaughn said. “And we stressed that when we came back as a group, we promised each other that it was going to be about basketball. And we hope that nothing interferes, no outside noise interferes with that, and our guys have done an amazing job.” job to protect each other and do this about basketball.”
For his part, Irving was asked if he agreed with the assessment that the focus was back on the ground.
“For me personally, I think sometimes I get sidetracked,” Irving said, after scoring 32 points. “Just trust what we’re doing…any outside negativity or praise, I really don’t care. I’m just focused on being the best version of me and letting the results play out based on how well you can trust.” each other as a group.”