BROOKLYN, N.Y. — I think the adage goes, “ugly wins beat pretty losses.” The Nets did their best to test that adage Sunday afternoon, winning an 82-74 slogger at home against the Orlando Magic, starting the ¡first! Brooklyn Nets winning streak in Brooklyn Nets history.
In a game they should’ve won by at least twice the final margin, the Nets are glad to take the victory, however problematic the process. “We’re happy with the win, but I don’t think we’re happy with how we played in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter,” Deron Williams noted postgame. “Even though we get up 20, it doesn’t mean we can lose our aggressiveness.”
They did. It was a tale of two game sections — the first quarter, in which the Brooklyn Nets overpowered the hapless Magic, nearly doubled their shooting percentage (56.5% to 29.2%), dished 11 assists on 13 field goals, C.J. Watson scored six points in about one second after hitting a three, thieving an inbounds pass, and hitting an and-one layup, and left the quarter with a comfortable 35-17 lead.
The game’s remainder proved a stark contrast to that first quarter. After jumping out with that 35-point barrage and eighteen-point lead, the Nets scored just 47 points in the final three periods. What had worked in the first quarter — multiple screens leading to open shots — seemed abandoned from then on. The Nets’ offense turned stagnant in worrisome ways, swinging from one isolation to the next as if guys were taking turns going one-on-five. Even pick-and-rolls/pops turned into isolations, as the screen’s effect was rendered useless as the Nets waited… and waited… and turned every play into “I’ll get mine.” They didn’t, and nearly lost the lead for it.
After a 39-point drubbing in Florida, tonight’s contest proved a stunningly polar opposite to Friday night’s conclusion. On Friday, the Brooklyn Nets allowed Orlando to roam within striking distance before Marie Antoinette’ing their defense to the tune of 57 points in 22 minutes. Tonight, they brought Orlando within striking distance and slogged, never taking full control of the game while never fully relinquishing their hold on it. In the final 17:50, the lead ebbed effortlessly from five to fifteen points, never quite taking the leap to blowout but never quite allowing the Magic to truly make it interesting.
That isn’t to say that an ugly game didn’t allow some beauty. Kris Humphries attacked the glass relentlessly to the point of absurdity, finishing with 21 hard-earned rebounds and beating the entire Orlando Magic team in offensive rebounding for a long stretch of the game. Brook Lopez, though he finished with an unacceptable seven turnovers and allowed Glen Davis to abuse him at times, did score a team-high 20 points and passed with a previously unseen vision. The Nets did function with a sinister sync in the first quarter, as Lopez, Williams, Humphries, and Watson — the team’s “core four” without Gerald Wallace playing and Joe Johnson clicking — contributed their multivariant talents to a victorious cause. Jerry Stackhouse hit another three, proving that mere mortality cannot contain Jerry Stackhouse.
So ugliness forgotten. For now, the Brooklyn Nets have won two straight, have a 3-2, and have two more games at home before their ¡first! west coast trip. Both are winnable, if not difficult, matchups, particularly balanced on the status of Gerald Wallace’s ankle. The Cleveland Cavaliers are a better team than the Nets just disposed of in back-to-back fashion and the Boston Celtics are perhaps the best non-Heat team in the conference. Brooklyn has now won small, won big, and won ugly. The next step is turning winning into routine.