It was a night off for the starters.
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn rested starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and sat Nic Claxton (right thumb sprain/left Achilles tendinopathy), Cam Johnson (right knee soreness) and Royce O’Neale (left knee soreness) all due to injury in Brooklyn’s 118-113 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.
Ben Simmons (left knee/back soreness) missed his eighth straight game since the All-Star break, and Vaughn load-managed forward Mikal Bridges, who didn’t see the floor after playing the entire opening period.
It was a tactical decision by Vaughn — even though he said he merely rode a hot-shooting bench that gunned the Nets back into the game from down 25.
The Nets were already heavy underdogs against the Bucks — who own the NBA’s best record — even without Giannis Antetokounmpo, the former league MVP who sat Thursday night because of “right hand soreness.”
If Vaughn played his starters and rode them all game, there was a good chance the Nets would still lose — and have dead legs for Friday’s matchup against Anthony Edwards’ Timberwolves.
Instead, Vaughn pulled the plug on the starters early. Bridges played the entire first quarter then sat the rest of the game. Nerlens Noel, who started in place of Claxton in just his second game since signing a 10-day contract in Brooklyn, played 18 minutes.
Dorian Finney-Smith and Seth Curry played 11 minutes apiece, and Joe Harris played 10 minutes.
“It was more so kind of the way the game unfolded a little bit with the lead they had after the first quarter,” Vaughn said postgame. “It was gonna take a lot for that group to come back, so went with the idea of some fresh legs and see if we can turn it around, junking the game up a little bit. So more so in line with that.”
Instead, Vaughn opted to go with the bench. The Nets set a new record for most bench points in a game on franchise history with 98 points coming from players who did not start.
Patty Mills scored 23, Cam Thomas added 21 and rookie Dru Smith scored 17 points.
Vaughn said he decided not to go back to his starters when the Nets turned a 25-point hole into a single-possession game in the fourth quarter because he wanted to ride the team that helped erase the Bucks’ lead in the first place.
“That group, I think had a great rhythm and momentum of what they were trying to accomplish on the floor,” Vaughn said. “So more so than anything, the thought was to with that group and stay with that group.”
Whether or not Vaughn intended to rest the entire Nets core rotation, the light work day leaves Brooklyn’s premier players with fresh legs entering Minnesota.
The Nets remain within striking distance of the Knicks for the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed.