PORTLAND – Royce O’Neale capped his first career triple-double by converting the tiebreaking tip-in with 0.7 of a second remaining, as the Brooklyn Nets earned a 109-107 National Basketball Association (NBA) victory at the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday. But it was Ben Simmons who earned all the praise.
The forward, who missed the whole of last season due to a combination of mental health and back issues, posted his first double-double as a Net, collecting a season-high 15 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists before fouling out.
“He was incredible tonight,” teammate Kevin Durant said on ESPN of Simmons. “I thought he did a good job of commanding the offence, commanding the team on the defensive side of the ball. He was able to control the game and get us back into it.”
Simmons, meanwhile, called for patience as he gradually gets back in the groove.
“People make it seem like I had a sprained ankle or something. I came back from back surgery, that’s not easy. I’m getting there,” he said. “I’m just building. I love those moments.
“Regardless of what people say, we’re here to win. We’re here to win a championship. It’s going to take everybody to do that. Everybody’s got to stay focused, locked in and stay the course, not get caught up in all the other things going on.”
O’Neale totalled 11 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds – and no play was bigger than how he finished Brooklyn’s last possession. After Jusuf Nurkic converted a tying three-point play with 6.5 seconds left, Durant missed a 21-footer from the left elbow and O’Neale jostled around Damian Lillard and Josh Hart to convert the dramatic layup.
Following O’Neale’s clutch hoop, he got his hands on Justise Winslow’s inbounds pass and, following a replay review, officials put 0.1 second on the clock. The game ended when Durant knocked away the inbounds pass.
Durant scored 35 points and became the 19th player to reach 26,000 career points early in the third. Yuta Watanabe added 20, including a three-pointer that put Brooklyn up 106-101 with 1min 47sec remaining.
Joe Harris added 15 points as the Nets (7-9) shot 50.6 per cent and won for the fifth time in eight games after allowing 153 points on Tuesday in Sacramento.
Lillard led the Trail Blazers, who dropped to 10-5 but are top of the Western Conference, with 25 points and 11 assists while also shooting just eight of 24.
“We really never got a flow in the fourth quarter,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said.
“The end of the third quarter really hurt us. We had an 11-point lead with 2:40 to go, they go on a 14-0 run that turned the tide on us. From there we were in scramble mode.” REUTERS