Nets guard Ben Simmons is defended by New Orleans Pelicans...

Nets guard Ben Simmons is defended by New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson during the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Ben Simmons was far from the only one at the Barclays Center who looked nervous Wednesday night.

Nearly every Nets fan in the sellout crowd of 18,003 had to be a little anxiety-filled about the lack of offense they witnessed in the season opener, an ugly 130-108 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I think they beat us in every category tonight,” Nets coach Steve Nash said after the game. “We were a little rattled to start the year.”

Simmons was expected to be a little rattled, given that the game was Simmons’ first regular-season contest in a Nets uniform and also his first game in more than a year as he missed all of last season after suffering from mental health and back issues. Simmons, whom Nash wants to be “the engine” of the Nets offense, finished the game with four points, five assists, five rebounds, three turnovers and fouled out with 9:01 left.

“I just think he’s rusty,” Nash said. “The guy hasn’t played in over a year. It’s not easy. We’re here to support him and push him.”

Said Simmons: “I think I was just too excited honestly.”

Simmons was  not the only Net to struggle as the team never had the lead and trailed by double digits for the majority of the game. The Nets were outrebounded, 61-39, and outscored 36-4 on second-chance points.

Kyrie Irving, who did not play in last year’s season opener because he was unvaccinated, missed a lot of early open shots when the Pelicans were building a 20-point lead. He finished the game with 15 points on 6-for-19 shooting which included going 0-for-3 from three-point range.

“We have to consistently play with a competitive spirit and not talk about it all the time,” Irving said. “…..I’m upset we lost, but I’m also glad we got tested by a great team.”

The Nets offense was as one-dimensional as it was for most of last season with Kevin Durant shouldering the load. Durant finished with 32 points and four blocks. Patty Mills added 16 points.

The game was also the first one in more than a year for Zion Williamson, who missed all of 2021-22 with a fractured foot. He was one of three Pelicans to score 20+ points, netting 25 points and grabbing nine rebounds. New Orleans was led by Brandon Ingram’s 28 points; CJ McCollum added 21.

Considering how hyped up the Nets had been to begin the season, the start of the game was shockingly ugly. It took less than four minutes for Nash to call his first timeout of the season as the Pelicans jumped out to an 11-2 lead.

The Nets trailed by as many as 18 points in the first quarter as they struggled to find any kind of rhythm on offense. The Pelicans made Durant work for every point while Irving struggled to hit open shots, finishing the first half with just four points on 2-for-9 shooting.

It was Durant who finally jolted the Nets out of their malaise late in the second quarter, making some jaw-dropping plays on both ends of the court.

In the final 2:24 of the half, Durant scored eight points, made two blocks and had one steal. He finished the half with 21 points, many on difficult shots where he was dealing with multiple defenders. His most stunning play, however, was when he came out of nowhere for a massive block of Ingram’s two-handed dunk attempt with 8.6 seconds left.

Still, the Nets could not continue the momentum in the second half and now have to figure out how to fix things quickly.

“Just one of those games where you just don't do the small things well at all; 36-4 second chance points. Never gonna win like that,” Durant said. “You got three of their best players – three of the best players in the league – get 20 points apiece. I mean, it's tough to win…..I’ve got to come more locked-in. I felt I was locked in, but I’ve just got to be better.”

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