As I sat in my room the other night, watching the Brooklyn Nets rout the Cleveland Cavaliers, I listened to the less-than-stellar (sorry, they called them the New Jersey Nets a few times) Cleveland announcers say something that I hadn’t put much thought into before. They said that the Nets were playing like a team that wanted to hold onto the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference.
At the time, I thought it was a good description of how the Nets had played: going 5-3 on an 8-game road trip, losing the three games they probably should’ve lost, and playing overall good basketball. After Thursday night’s loss to the Bulls, I realized that the Nets were not playing like a team that wanted to hold onto the 4th seed. They were playing the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For the Nets, tonight was an important game. Not only were the Bulls missing nearly half of their rotation players, but they were also struggling of late when playing on the road, going 2-6 in their last 8 road games.
Through the first half tonight, the Nets appeared solid. They took an 11-point lead into halftime as Brook Lopez dominated the Chicago Bulls frontline, scoring 20 points on 9-13 shooting. Inevitably, though, "it" happened. The third quarter showed up, and the Nets did what they’ve been consistently doing in most third quarters this season: they collapsed.
Joe Johnson knew the importance of Thursday night's game. “This is a game we desperately needed considering where we are in the standings. In the first half we were pretty good, in the second half, I don’t think we pushed the ball as much as we did in the first, we didn’t play as loose as we did in the first and it hurt us."
As the dreaded third period unfolded, the Nets and their fans witnessed Carlos Boozer tear apart the likes of Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries. Ultimately, Boozer finished the game with 29 points and 18 rebounds on 12-22 shooting. Here lies the first issue of tonight’s game.
The Evans-Boozer matchup was not working. The 6’9” Evans was simply not able to bother the 6’9” Boozer from shooting his patented overhead jumper. These types of shots are nearly impossible to contest when you don’t have length, and Evans doesn’t. Instead of watching more destruction, why not at least try the longer Andray Blatche on Boozer and see what happens? Not only could it not have gotten worse, but it also would’ve also forced Boozer to matchup with Andray on the other end.
The next issue is the offense and late game play calling (or lack thereof). As is customary with the Brooklyn Nets, the offense goes stagnant in the second half of games, along with the litany of turnovers. The inexplicable trend continued tonight as in the first half the Nets shot 48.7% and had just six turnovers. In the second half, the Nets shot 38.7% and had 10 turnovers -- eight in the fourth quarter. The great ball movement the Nets had in the first half defaulted back to stagnation and isolation style offense in the second.
Even with the offensive and defensive struggles that plagued the Nets in the second half, they still had a fine shot to tie and even win the game coming down the stretch.
The Nets' final three plays all had something in common; not only was the game a one-possession game for all three, but they were all isolations, none of which were successful. As has been common protocol, the Nets seem to use a bevy of isolations with either Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, or Deron Williams in tight games down the stretch. The first two plays each ended with Lopez -- a turnover and a missed shot deriving from isolations of both he and Williams. The third and final play, occurring with the Nets down 92-90 with just under six seconds left, was perhaps one isolation too far. Even though it ended in an open Lopez baseline jumper from just inside the arc, it was not only unsuccessful, but also uncreative.
When asked about the final play after the game, Lopez said, “It was drawn up for D-Will to make a play.” In other words, another Deron Williams isolation. An integral part of coaching basketball involves drawing up plays when coming out of timeouts, especially in late game situations. Unfortunately against the Bulls, P.J. Carlesimo did not do this. Though Williams was able to “make a play,” it ended in their center missing a shot just inside the three-point line. Not exactly high-percentage if you ask me, and not exactly a creative one either.