‘Young Clax’: Nic Claxton shows growth in game in Nets’ win over Raptors

Brooklyn Nets forward Nic Claxton (33) dunks over Toronto Raptors forward Christian Koloko (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, in New York.
AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

Young Clax isn’t the name of the next hit sitcom coming to CBS this fall, rather it’s the mindset that Nets big man Nic Claxton is trying to get back to this season. A bit of that was on display on Friday night at Barclays Center as the Nets’ center helped Brooklyn erase a 10-point deficit in the third and come away with a win over the Raptors. 

Claxton finished the night with the third-highest points among Nets players along with his second double-double. He may have shot 3-of-8 from the free-throw line, but those shots he did knock down came at a key point in the game. 

The win over the Raptors saw Claxton do a little bit of everything as he drove down the lane, hit key free throws and dominated along the boards. By the end, seven of his 11 rebounds had been offensive rebounds. 

“It gives a little bit more dimension when he’s able to make plays like that,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “That’s always been part of Nic’s game. He played a lot with the ball in college, having said that, injuries and developing into a man to play at this level is a step. With those injuries, it set him back, but his professionalism this summer it was great. He stuck to it, he took a level as a professional and you’re seeing that now. 

“He’s stronger and fitter and then you can see his skills that he’s continued to develop come out, so he was able to make some great finishes tonight.”

Claxton had gone through a number of issues over the first few years he’s had in the league, but Claxton really seemed to take that next step last season as more opportunities presented themselves. When it became clear that the Nets would go with Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe as their big men, Claxton ran with the chance to be a starter. 

The center credited a greater comfort on the floor as a reason why his game has seemed to take another step forward.

“Just trying to get back to young Clax,” he said, referring to the period of time he played college ball at Georgia and his rookie season in the NBA. “Just being myself. You know we need other guys to step up. Can’t have Kyrie (Irving) and (Kevin Durant) do everything. Just playing and my teammates are doing a good job of instilling that confidence in me.” 

Brooklyn Nets forward Nic Claxton (33) works against Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet and O.G. Anunoby for a rebound during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, in New York.AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

He later added: “Even in my first year in the league where I was just playing instead of thinking so much, I’m just trying to get back to that.”

No one on the Nets seemed too surprised by Claxton’s game or what he had been able to do. And Irving had simple advice for him going into the game.

“I said ‘if we’re not seeing you play like that, as hard offensively and defensively then we got to hold you accountable to that standard.’ And he knew it and when he adds points like that to the board and he’s pushing the transition and he’s doing the little things like that, and he’s just bringing that strength to the team,” Irving said.

“To be able to take pressure off of us and go score gives a lot, a lot of comfortable space. I’m happy he played well. We want him to keep it up, but now at this point as a young player in this league he has to show consistency and we have to be right there with him.” 

Plenty had been made about Claxton’s free throw shooting, especially after he went 1-for-11 from the line in Game 4 against the Boston Celtics last season. To his credit, Claxton was aggressive and rolling to the rim on Friday. 

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The Nets big man said that he’d want to be at the free throw line 10 or more times during a game.

“That’s something I embrace, I’m going to need to work on and I embrace the challenge,” he said. I have no fear. I go out there, I’m trying to finish every time I get an opportunity and that’s just who I am as a player.”