It was not expected to be an easy game in Brooklyn in spite of the Rockets’ 1-5 record going in. Prior to tonight, the Rockets had won 19 of their last 21 matchups against the Nets.
It did, however, feel like a game that was very important for the young Nets to win.
The beginning of the game was chock-full of individual defensive mistakes that allowed the Rockets to get easy points and take an early seven-point lead. At the same time, the Nets’ guards had a clear objective — attack the paint. D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert took turns relentlessly driving into Clint Capela and earning buckets or free throws.
The Nets cleaned up their defense slightly and got into a groove offensively that allowed them to push their lead to 14 midway through the second quarter. But right before halftime, Chris Paul took over the Rockets’ offense and exploited the porous defense of the Nets to close the lead to five.
Chris Paul continued to dominate throughout the night, buoying the Rockets through whatever struggles they faced. The Nets also let an aging Carmelo Anthony light them up for 28 points. As the guards struggled to create offense in the second half, the lead the Nets were clinging to dissipated.
The game looked all but lost — until Shabazz Napier checked in.
His instant offense along with contributions from the rest of the bench breathed life into the team and made the game competitive again.
But it wasn’t enough for the Nets to overcome the monster performances from Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. While the Nets’ offense was humming with aggressive guard play early on, those same members struggled to find the same effectiveness as the game went on.
Brooklyn got the stops, but did not make the plays.
Ultimately — it was another winnable game that slipped through the cracks as the offense stalled in crunch time.
D’Angelo Russell Point Guard
12 PTS, 5-14 FG, 1-5 3PT, 3 REB, 3 AST, 1TO
D’Angelo Russell started the game off aggressively and focused on offense, but seemingly absent-minded on defense. He produced a few crafty drives on one end of the court and then missed a switch on defense on the other.
While protecting the ball much better than in previous games, inconsistent defensive focus coupled with questionable shot selection resulted in Russell sitting out the entire fourth quarter.
Caris LeVert Shooting Guard
29 PTS, 10-17 FG, 4-6 3PT, 4 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 1 BLK, 1 TO
Caris LeVert continues to be a bright light on a struggling Nets squad. He looked unstoppable early on, consistently slicing through the Rockets’ defense and whirling past Capela to get improbable layups.
While it wasn’t enough tonight, LeVert continued to add more samples of his increased level of play. It is still early in the season, but LeVert has laid the foundation for a most-improved-player campaign.
Spencer Dinwiddie Point Guard
12 PTS, 5-13 FG, 1-6 3PT, 3 AST, 3 TO
Dinwiddie was part of the guard trio causing problems for the Rockets in the paint early on. While he helped facilitate the offense well in the first half, it ground to a standstill under his watch later in the game.
Jarrett Allen Center
10 PTS, 4-8 FG, 0-2 3PT, 8 REB, 1 BLK, 1 TO
Saying that Jarrett Allen got exploited by Capela in the paint tonight would be an understatement. Allen was taken advantage of both in the one-on-one matchup and in the pick-and-roll with Chris Paul.
While he was able to convert when fed, the fact that Allen is not yet the defensive anchor the Nets so desperately need was painfully apparent tonight.
Joe Harris Shooting Guard
18 PTS, 7-9 FG, 4-4 3PT, 2 REB, 4 AST
Joe Harris, now officially dubbed “Lumber Joe” by the Nets’ broadcast team, has been automatic from beyond the line. Every game he can be counted on for three to five three-pointers, which is a great value for his contract. His defensive effort is consistent and he rarely makes a mistake when choosing whether to take a shot or distribute to the next teammate.
Shabazz Napier Point Guard
11 PTS, 3-7 FG, 3-4 3PT, 2 REB
Napier came in off the bench and was the spark plug that the Nets were in dire need of. By hitting back-to-back threes, he brought the team back to life and got it engaged. His speed and stroke nearly made the difference tonight.
While he is a third-stringer for the Nets, he is better than quite a few other team’s main backups. This speaks well to the guard depth in Brooklyn.