BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Enormous magnitude. Whether directly stated or overtly implied, each member of the now 38-28 Brooklyn Nets agreed that there was a level of urgency missing from their play tonight, and that this game’s importance was completely lost on them — if only for a seven-minute stretch in the fourth. Even in a game where Reggie Evans played his best game of the season, finishing three left-handed layups & baby hooks in the first quarter, and ending the game with 14 points and 22 rebounds, the Nets couldn’t end the game on a high note, getting outscored 34-20 in the fourth quarter en route to a 105-93 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
For Joe Johnson, it was concern about falling back to one game behind New York Knicks for the Atlantic Division lead with an opportunity to tie it up. For Gerald Wallace, it was concern about the potential tiebreakers lost should these teams end the season with identical records. For P.J. Carlesimo, it was the defensive dearth in a game of importance. For Deron Williams, it was a confusing lack of focus, both in their offensive sets and in their pick-and-roll defense. For Brook Lopez, it was an inability to defend in the paint.
When the Nets win, things click, and the team’s issues seem minor. When they lose — and lose like this — each of their weaknesses is glaringly on display.
“We didn’t know the significance of this game, regardless of who’s playing what minutes,” Johnson said. “You can’t leave here without a win. That’s unacceptable.”
With the Nets holding onto a two-point lead entering the fourth quarter, the Hawks made their mark offensively in two ways; firstly by getting out in transition with forced turnovers and quick ball-push offense, secondly by tearing the Nets asunder in the pick-and-roll.
“We didn’t defend,” Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said flatly.
“They killed us in the pick-and-roll,” Williams admitted after the game. “(Hawks guard) Jeff Teague was making a lot of things happen in the fourth quarter. … You can’t take anything away from them. They came out and played well tonight. It was a little bit of us not being able to stop them, but that’s part of good offense as well.”
“There was a point in time in the fourth quarter where they ran a pick-and-roll with (center) Al (Horford) and (power forward) Josh (Smith),” Johnson added. “We never went over that, so we didn’t know how to cover it. And they hurt us.”
Evans, the team’s best big pick-and-roll defender by this idiot’s estimation (though the picture above isn’t exactly kind evidence), sat the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter as the 73-71 lead turned into a 94-83 deficit.
“Kinda is what it is,” Evans said about the benching. “Can’t press rewind. I’d love to be in, but unfortunately, other people have to play. … It’s hard, just knowing that we were right there, and within the blink of an eye, it’s fading away.”
Along with allowing 34 points in the fourth quarter, allowing 9-11 shooting in the paint, allowing the Hawks to get to the middle of the floor with ease, the Nets fell back again on isolation-heavy offense, shooting just 7-20 in the fourth as the Hawks took over. While the Nets were able to create out of the post in the first half — running guards off Brook Lopez in the post, which either gave Lopez room to maneuver or drew double-teams, allowing him to kick out to open shooters — the Nets tried to force in isolation & in the post in the fourth quarter, and it backfired.
“That’s the way we normally play,” Carlesimo said of the isolation offense. “We go to Joe, we go to Deron, we go to Brook. Other guys… I don’t think it was the quality of our shots. … For the most part, we had shots in the paint, we had guys, we had layups going towards the rim, and we didn’t do a good job finishing. Atlanta’s defense had something to do with that.”
The Nets finished the game 19-44 on shots in the paint, just 16-40 from within five feet. Gerald Wallace was 1-7 on layup attempts, and was asked what he needed to do to improve his game. Wallace, never one to mince words, was clear.
“Make a shot. A layup, something. Any f–ing thing. F—. Throw trash in a trash can. Anything. See anything go in.”
With an eight-game, 17-day road trip ahead, starting against the Detroit Pistons, Johnson was asked if the urgency — especially heading towards a heated playoff run — would click in.
“I don’t know,” Johnson said somberly. “Hopefully, but I can’t say it will.”