ATLANTA, G.A. — On the second night of a back-to-back, in a matchup against a team athletic enough to still be more athletic than their opponents even as their most athletic player was suspended by the team, the Nets were pounded into transitional oblivion by a team that had little interest in allowing pace dictated to them, falling behind as much as 26, never leading, and eventually ending their #Undefeatedin2013 streak, losing to the tune of 109-95, a score that doesn’t truly define Atlanta’s dominance.
Though there are equally impressive and dreadful statlines on both sides — Jeff Teague (28 points on 12-18 shooting, 11 assists), Zaza Pachulia (13 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists), Devin Harris (18 points, five assists, four rebounds, four steals), Deron Williams (5-18 shooting, five fouls), Joe Johnson (4-15, 0-4 from three-point range), Nets three-point shooting (4-26) — they all tell pieces of a story that was resolved by intermission.
The Nets, who built a victory Tuesday night on their transition, or at least transitionary, offense, eschewed those principles, perhaps because of fatigue; with Jeff Teague & former Nets blur Devin Harris running the show, the Hawks ran like hell — slicing through weak and ill-prepared Nets transition defense for fast break layup after fast break layup to build an early Hawks lead they’d never relinquish.
The second night of the back-to-back proved a stark contrast to the first, when the Nets used their “slow transition” to their advantage against a team starting the likes of Aaron Gray in their lineup. After Tuesday night’s victory, the Nets all universally agreed: fast works for them. Those quick points help them succeed. That still may be true; it was true for the Hawks Wednesday night, while the Nets dribbled out shot clocks with frightening regularity. If possessions are a two-way conversation, the Hawks rolled through their points with regimented efficiency, while the Nets held their tongue, silent until forced into saying something laughable.
In total, the Hawks (playing without athletic forward and transition terror Josh Smith) put up 19 fast-break points in the first half as they quite literally raced to a 16-point halftime lead. They finished with 29 fast-break points, and assisted on 33 of 45 field goals.
It’s no coincidence that against a team built for running, the best offensive night from the Nets came from their slow, plodding center, Brook Lopez — 22 points, 10-14 shooting, six offensive rebounds — and he, too, was caught off guard, unable to run the floor to stop the torrid Atlanta break purely by physical limitation. Lopez had a good night despite not being utilized directly until later in the game; the Nets clearly wanted to showcase Joe Johnson early on, perhaps as a reminder to Atlanta’s fans of what they once had, or perhaps as a reminder to Atlanta’s roster what they were now missing. With the way Johnson uncomfortably ebbed through the game, unable to react to double-teams, neither seemed to mind.
By the time the first half settled, Atlanta provided a blueprint to defeating Brooklyn that, if it wasn’t obvious already, is now cemented in box score lore: run like hell, execute faster than Brooklyn can react, wear out the expensive backcourt with quick layups, and force a roster laden with inconsistent three-point shooters to beat you with three-point shooting.