Next Stop, Playoffs: Nets 105, Rockets 96 (GAME GRADES)


The Brooklyn Nets CENTER

On an April Fool’s Day, the Nets snapped one 14-game streak, continued another streak to 14 games, and clinched a playoff spot for the second straight year.

The Nets played what hopefully is their usual brand of basketball: move the ball, limit turnovers, exploit mismatches, find open shots, and don’t worry who gets the numbers, as long as they come. The Nets struggled at times to defend James Harden — who got an incredible number of foul calls — and they allowed Omer Asik to pull down a career-high 23 rebounds, but they contested most of Houston’s looks, found Joe Johnson open enough times to extend the lead in the third quarter, and spread the ball enough to keep that lead maintained in the fourth.

This was another solid victory against a plus-.500 team that’s going to make waves in the West, even without Dwight Howard. Hard to complain about that one.

Deron Williams POINT GUARD

Played a very comfortable, dribble-crossover heavy offense, got free, found teammates, didn’t get embarrassed by Jeremy Lin, and only turned it over once. It’s not elite Deron Williams, but it’s point guard Deron Williams, and that’s all they needed tonight.

Shaun Livingston POINT GUARD

Feasted inside early with three quick buckets, including an alley-oop from Mason Plumlee, before foul trouble took him out of the first quarter. Played his poke-and-prod, pull-up-and-facilitate offense, and made few mistakes.

Joe Johnson SHOOTING GUARD

Quiet burn; dropped 17 points in the first half while nobody noticed. At one point he had 22 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 fouls. Fitting that he’d have a 22 2’s night with Jay-Z in the house.

What was so phenomenal about his shooting performance was that he didn’t play some over-the-top out-of-the-ordinary shooting performance, where Johnson just hit step-back 34-footers with Omer Asik in his face. The Nets tilted Houston’s offense from side to side, and Johnson just happened to get open enough times to get a clear look at the basket.

Sniper Joe picked up 30 points before the start of the fourth quarter not by taking over Brooklyn’s offense, but by playing within it. That’s the type of Johnson Brooklyn needs in the playoffs.

Paul Pierce POWER FORWARD

Very quiet, but nice and rested for tomorrow’s game against the Knicks. I hear he likes playing them.

Andray Blatche POWER FORWARD

Solid game from Young Seymour; he couldn’t play help defense with an oar in each hand and struggled to rebound over him all night, but attacked the lane well and only took open mid-range shots.

Mirza Teletovic POWER FORWARD

Gave the Nets some great minutes down the stretch, hitting two threes in the fourth quarter to keep the Nets lead alive and keep Paul Pierce rested on the bench.

Mason Plumlee CENTER

Set a new career-high for assists before the first half was over, so that’s cool. Threw a pair of assists for Shaun Livingston dunks, created a few dunk opportunities by running the floor, and other than his (and the team’s) inability to keep Omer Asik off the glass, a solid game punctuated by a dunk with under two minutes left.