AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
I've tried to be incredibly optimistic about the New Jersey Nets this season, but I'll readily admit that with about two minutes left in last night's game against the Detroit Pistons, I was still smarting from the pain of last year's 12-70 season.
Who could blame me? How did all of you honestly react when at the 1:39 point in the fourth quarter, a wide-open Richard Hamilton drilled a three-pointer from the corner putting the Pistons up 95-88, silencing the vibrant Newark crowd? It was a play that was even further soiled on the Nets end when about 20 seconds earlier, Terrence Williams played solid post defense on Tayshaun Prince, forcing him to miss a hook shot. But the Nets couldn't corral the rebound and Rodney Stuckey recovered for Detroit.
So yes, I'll admit it - I thought it was "game over." The game would have been over for the 2009-10 Nets, and while I love the concept behind the "It's All New" campaign for this team, the wounds from last season are still too fresh. Clearly, the 2010-11 team wouldn't have sharp enough shooters or solid enough defense to make both the shots and the stops necessary to come back from 7 down with barely 90 seconds to play.
And clearly I'm an idiot. With less than 30 seconds left, Devin Harris drove to the hoop with the Nets down 1. He nearly lost the ball in the post, sharply skipped a pass out to the perimeter while falling to the floor to newly acquired marksman Anthony Morrow, who calmly stepped up and swished a three-ball, putting the Nets up 97-95. It was the decisive shot in what would end up being a 101-98 victory on opening night for the Nets - officially off to a 1-0 start after losing their first 18 games a year earlier.
Obviously, it's a long season, and it's hard to read too much into an opening night victory, but I don't think I'm reaching too far in saying the Nets have already proven, 48 minutes into this season, that this ain't going to be last year's Nets team. In his pregame chat with the YES cameras, new head coach Avery Johnson talked about how this team was going to be able to shoot and play defense. Such fundamental things that sound so obvious, but the 2009-10 Nets were one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA and when it came time to make defensive stops, they couldn't. Last night, coming out of a timeout after the Hamilton three, newly acquired Jordan Farmar (10 points, 2-4 from three) answered with a three-point shot of his own. He then stole the ball from Ben Gordon and on the very next Detroit possession, he played great post defense on Rodney Stuckey.
Meanwhile, getting the Nets in position to make the comeback, was a familiar double-dose of the newly-minted co-captains, Brook Lopez and Harris. Lopez (25 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks) looked like he was forcing a bit too much on the offensive end early, but came alive in the second half, scoring 14 points in the third quarter and converting a spectacular play with about 4 minutes left in the 4th, when he got the ball away from the hoop, nearly turned it over, recovered, charged to the hoop, missed the shot, stuck with it, and got the putback, cutting the Piston lead to 4.
Harris (22 points, 9 assists, 2 steals) also came alive in the third quarter, drilling some of those vintage pullback jumpers and demonstrating amazing body control on a three point play with about 7 minutes to go in the third when was hit by Austin Daye, hung in the air and made the layup. Two minutes later, Harris threaded a perfectly placed bounce pass in the post to Brook Lopez who followed with an emphatic slam dunk.
Naturally, it wasn't all positive for the Nets - impossible to say considering they were trailing a majority of the game to a team that struggled at points as much as the Nets did last season. As good as the defense was last night, they were also sloppy at various points throughout the game. When Hamilton hit that three in the 4th, the Pistons had been to the line 30 times compared to 15 for the Nets. It wasn't because the Pistons were necessarily more aggressive in the post either. The Nets were over the limit fairly quickly in the 4th, after a series of ticky-tack or boneheaded fouls (Terrence Williams Kris Humphries were victims of the former and latter). On the offensive end, Travis Outlaw was out of sync all night, finishing with 5 points on 1-7 from the field. And as good as Terrence Williams can (10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, an improved jump shot and a +14 for the game), he still has a penchant for making lazy or unfocused passes into the post. A low pass to Brook Lopez in the 4th quarter led to a turnover and a three-point play by Jason Maxiel. Needless to say, there's still plenty for Avery Johnson to be working on with this team.
Some more thoughts after the jump:
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