The Nets played the Clippers twice in a span of 8 days, and in my opinion, it is rare that when a team plays another twice in a short span that you see two different type of games, but that happened here. So what was the difference? We are going to look at some key differences between the game on the 18th (which the Nets lost pretty handily) and the game last night (where they won pretty handily).
I am not talking about Courtney Lee or Devin Harris here, I am talking about the injuries the Clippers suffered. Marcus Camby only played 7 minutes, and while Baron Davis played 29 minutes, he sat out a huge chunk of the third and fourth quarter, a time where the Nets usually blow their big lead. I think the most important loss of the two was Marcus Camby. Camby killed the Nets the first time out with 17 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. What makes Camby so tough is that with Kaman in the game, he plays the 4, and that is such an obvious mismatch for any PF on the Nets roster. Craig Smith is a nice player and he had a nice game (18 and 8), but he isn't the shot-blocking presence that Camby is, and I think that is part of the reason why the Nets were able to get into the lane. As Kevin Arnovitz explains:
Craig Smith has an efficient game offensively. He scores 18 points (6-for-8 from the field) and collects eight rebounds, but is dreadful from the stripe (6-12 FTAs) and hurts the team defensively. He commits five fouls and is rarely where he’d be most useful in the defense.
Marcus Camby certainly doesn't create defensive breakdowns like this:
The Nets actually committed more turnovers in last night's game than they did on the 18th (16 vs. 13), but the Clippers scored less points off of them (10 vs. 12), and that is the key. The reason was the Nets were committing good turnovers. Now I know that no turnover is good, but if you had the choice of committing a "live turnover," where the ball remains in play and the opponent gets a transition opportunity, or a turnover where the whistle is blown and you are allowed to set up your defense, which one would you choose?
Jarvis Hayes actually had a perfect example of what it means to take a "good turnover" last night. Terrence Williams got a defensive rebound in the fourth quarter and tossed it to Hayes. Hayes was looking to get it back to the point guard, but Baron Davis jumped it, and there was nobody open. Instead of just throwing the ball up for grabs, getting it stolen, and starting a fast break for the Clippers; Hayes took an extra dribble and was called for a double-dribble. The whistle blew and the Nets were able to set their defense up. Any turnover hurts (especially late in games), but if they are dead ball turnovers, it makes it a little easier to swallow.
This kind of goes hand in hand with the good turnovers. The Nets were able to stifle the Clippers fast break last night, as they only scored 3 points in transition. On the 18th, the Clippers were able to score 18 points in transition. That is a huge 15 point swing. This was in part because of the good turnovers, but the Nets' good shooting also played a role in that. The Nets shot much better the second time out against the Clippers (eFG% of 56.5 compared to a eFG% of 47.6). This left the Clippers with less chances to get the board and run. Also, the Nets shot better from 3, and this prevented those long rebounds that are so good at starting fast breaks.
One thing that we took away from the Clippers game on the 18th was the Nets did a really poor job of rotating. I mean it was so bad, it was the only thing I focused on during the video breakdown from that game. It has also been really bad the entire year, I mean how many times have we seen someone penetrate, and the helps comes a split second late, leading an easy basket? Far too many by my count.
Last night though, things were different, it just looked like guys trusted each other more on the defensive end. I don't know what Kiki and Del Harris did during that extra off-day, but whatever it was, it worked. The rotations were crisp the whole night, but I think it was at it's best on Brook Lopez's block of Baron Davis:
Before we look at some players coming off the bench, I wanted to take a look at the bench as a whole. The first game against the Clippers was one where the bench really laid an egg, and I believe it was this game that lead me to call the Nets' 6-15 guys on the roster the "worst in the NBA." The starters played very well, but every time the bench went in, they let the Clippers' lead grow. Humphries was the only one off the bench that really contributed that game. Last night? Everyone who came into the game provided a bit of a spark. I mean, let's look at the numbers here:
- Tony Battie: 9 minutes, 4 points, +1
- Jarvis Hayes: 30 minutes, 9 points, +4
- Chris Quinn: 12 minutes, 8 points, +9
Every bench player that logged a minute last night put up a positive +/-. That means whenever the bench came in to give the starters a rest, they either held the lead or extended it. That is big.
Kris Humphries put up 21 points against the Clippers in their first match-up, and he was pretty efficient, doing it on 14 shots. Last night, Humphries out-performed that. He scored 25 points (on the same 14 shots), pulled down 8 boards, and even had a shot block thrown in.
When I did my lineup post, I wasn't really expecting to see it play out right away, just because we know Kiki likes to go with Yi early. Yi's foul trouble forced Kiki's hand though, and Humpries really performed well. While it wasn't the exact lineup I talked about, you were able to see what Kris Humphries can bring to the table. I am not even talking about the scoring either (because you can't expect him to get 20+ a night going forward), but he just brings an attitude you like. I mean the Nets were up big and he was still going to the hole hard trying to dunk on any Clipper that was in his way:
Yes, new Yi is still a solid player, and he aggressively drives to the hoop, but Humphries just beings a physical presence to both sides of the court that Yi just can't provide right now.
Remember when I was fawning over Terrence Williams just after the Nets had drafted him? The thing I was most excited about was his ability to effect a game without scoring. It took 44 games, but Terrence Williams finally showed that ability. In 31 minutes Terrence scored only 7 points, but let's check out the rest of the box score. He pulled down 9 rebounds and dished out 8 assists. He almost had a double-double with rebounds and assists, heck he almost had a triple double.
Terrence Williams was able to get in the lane and make smart decisions every single time. He kicked the ball out when appropriate, and was hitting the open man:
That puts so much pressure on a defense to rotate correctly, and when they don't, big things can happen for Terrence:
He was also under control on the break, which is something you don't see from most rookies:
The Nets had played some teams tough for some stretches over the past month, but that is exactly what it was, just stretches. Anytime the opposing team decided to impose it's will on the Nets, they let them. Last night looked like more of the same, the Nets were up 10 at the half, but started the second half slow. They let the Clippers get all the way back and tie the game 5 minutes into the third. Instead of just laying down for the Clippers though, the Nets fought back, extended the lead to 10 once again, and closed the third quarter up by 7. The game wasn't really close the rest of the way in my opinion.
This attitude is key for the Nets. You aren't always going to get 25 points from Kris Humphries, 8 points from Chris Quinn, or 7/8/9 from Terrence Williams, but if they come out and bring this attitude each and every night, they can have more performances like this. Listening to Kris Humphries' post game interview makes me believe that it could happen (pay attention to his last answer):