“I wouldn’t say I went with Blatche over Lopez, that group was going so good," Brooklyn Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said after the game, later adding that "Andray had it going and he was making good decisions.”
He was. Blatche dipped and dived his way into the paint, getting his points by going towards the basket, rather than fading away from it. His arsenal of interior moves was on full display Friday night -- most notably his shoulder dip to sneak past Taj Gibson and his take on Hakeem Olajuwon's Dream Shake, the Dray Shake.
Brooks was similarly impressive. On a night when interim coach Carlesimo said there was no good matchup for him to play against and he'd likely not see time, Carlesimo "freed MarShon" just nine minutes into the game with good results. Brooks made two excellent plays in the first quarter -- one to get himself free for a floater, and another to find Brook Lopez for a dunk in midair whilst shot-faking -- and, more notably, carried the team's offense in the crucial fourth, scoring or assisting on the team's first 11 points and earning his key minutes down the stretch.
"I was trying to be solid and be decisive," Brooks said about his game. "When I get in trouble, I'm just thinking, just thinking too much, which is human nature, so I just tried to be decisive with my decisions. If I'm gonna drive, I'm gonna drive. If I'm gonna shoot, I'm gonna shoot. I just tried to be decisive and let the game come to me."
In the video below, you can see the decisiveness: finding the right moments to shoot, finding teammates, getting to the rim, and spotting up in proper moments.
An evening after I implored the Nets to go slightly more unconventional with their lineups -- asking the Nets to eschew the standard PG-SG-SF-PF-C tradition, and put the nominally small forward Gerald Wallace at the 4 -- Carlesimo did just that, playing Wallace at the 4 for 23 minutes last night and, incidentally, playing him for the entire second half. Those lineups were a +10 in those minutes.
While normally that'd be cause for me to run my mouth about how right I was, that's not entirely accurate: because the Bulls were so shorthanded, they too played an unconventional lineup, with similarly nominal small forward Luol Deng playing more "power forward" minutes than usual. Wallace's body-intensive game is more conducive to playing inside & out than Deng, and that gave Wallace a significant advantage in the matchup.
So I'm certainly not scheduling a small-ball championship parade just yet.
Truth be told, a four-point win against a very good team missing three of its best players does not scream "encouraging," and there were lapses in communication, particularly on the defensive end, problematic enough to feel dissuaded by the performance throughout. Most notably, the bigs allowed Taj Gibson to score at will in pick-and-roll situations and got him a bevy of easy looks in the paint. Gibson is precisely the type of big the Nets struggle against -- long, athletic forwards -- and even without a more traditional center playing next to him, the Nets still struggled to contain him.
One moment in the third quarter speaks volumes: with Reggie Evans & Brook Lopez in the game, both big men left the paint to contest the ballhandler simultaneously, both leaving the stretchy Gibson wide open in the paint for a tomahawk dunk.
Like most Brooklyn games this season, each of their strengths and weaknesses were prominently on display. They've got scoring punch off their bench that can lift the starters when needed, but not enough minutes to go around. They've got two of the most creative offensive centers in the league, but issues defending the paint at a high level. They've got smart offensive players that fall into isolations in odd moments. They've got a dynamic lineup combination with Gerald Wallace at the 4 that's had success, but only against the right matchups. In the end, it added up to a four-point victory. I'm sure they'll take it.