AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
48 Minutes of Hell - Pounding the Rock - View from the Couch
The 2009-2010 New Jersey Nets have been a lot of things: snake-bitten, lackadaisical, uncompetitive, underachievers, disappointing and unpredictable for starters. One thing they're not, is the "Worst of All Time." And on a totally personal level, that's good enough for me.
Fans of teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers or Los Angeles Lakers will probably think it's stupid and ridiculous that I'm so relieved that after last night's 90-84 victory over the San Antonio Spurs - a team the Nets haven't beaten since 2002 when they were perennial playoff contenders - the Nets now have 10 wins, meaning they're guaranteed to always be better than W.O.A.T. 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers. Yes, they still have 64 losses with April remaining. That's a lot. I don't care. I didn't sign on to be a Nets fan more than 20 years ago because I thought it was going to be a cake walk. But I also never expected the franchise I've followed through thick and thin, Beard and Benoit Benjamin, would have come so gut-wrechinngly close to being declared the worst team in NBA history. There have been a number of downright terrible teams in NBA history that are but a mere footnote now. But there's only one W.O.A.T. The Nets are not it. Thank God.
And the way the Nets staved off infamy last night was equally refreshing. The Spurs were without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli last night, but so what. That's why they played the games. Nobody gave the Nets any in wins in November when they started out 0-18 with Devin Harris, Yi Jianlian, Jarvis Hayes and Courtney Lee missing a chunk of games. What about when the Nets were only able to dress 8 guys, three of which were Bobby Simmons, Eduardo Najera and Sean Williams? The Spurs are still a well-coached enough team, and have one of the greatest NBA players of all-time in Tim Duncan to not use their depleted roster as an excuse. Regardless, while Spurs coach Greg Popovich was clearly giving Duncan an extended rest in the third quarter, the all-star was on the floor during crunch time, when the Nets used a combination of solid defense, timely shooting, and terrific ball control, to outscore San Antonio 28-18 in the game's final 12 minutes. There was nothing about that game that wasn't earned for the Nets. The moment was there, and instead of settling for it bouncing off the front of the rim, they seized it and dunked it home.
The Nets had their working boots on early in this game. There was some chippiness from the bench as assistant coach Roy Rogers was apparently barking at the officials in defense of his prized pupil Brook Lopez. The Nets were shooting in the 30-35 percent range for most of the first half, and the Spurs were able to push their lead to double digits, but the Nets capitalized on 16-13 second quarter advantage, to keep the game within three at halftime. Then when the third quarter started, instead of going to sleep for 12 minutes as they've done so many other times before this season, they kept themselves with striking distance. It was the little things - like Yi Jianlian, who struggled offensively going 3-12 from the field with 8 points, drawing a charge with about 9 minutes left in the third when he drew a charge while SAS had a 5-on-4 advantage on offense. Or when the Nets successfully converted a two-for-one at the end of the third quarter, leaving just enough on the clock for Keyon Dooling to get a jumper off as time expired. In the first quarter, the Nets mistimed their final possession, not getting a good shot off, and leaving SAS with more than enough to stretch their lead to six.
But the shots were falling in the fourth. Terrence Williams, who has struggled with outside jumpers all season, drilled a three with 8:11 to tie the score at 72. Then, as the Spurs tried to pull away again, going up 5 with 6:09 left, Devin Harris hit a 9-footer and Yi Jianlian hit probably his biggest jumper of the season, when he sunk a 19-footer from the top of the key, putting the Nets up by 1. The Nets never looked back as TWill and Brook - who was tremendous down the stretch - hit two more jumpers to distance themselves from the Spurs.
The game was iced when Courtney Lee - the "nice guy" who's inexplicably one of the most polarizing players on this team - made a fantastic defensive play on George Hill, fronting him as Tim Duncan struggled to get rid of the ball with the final seconds of the game ticking away. Duncan threw the ball away, but it was Lee's seal of Hill, that made that play happen. Lee was also consistent on offense, going for 19 points on 7-13 shooting, but it's those little plays that have earned him the trust of the coaching staff, and I hope the adoration of the fan base. Lee may not be a budding superstar, but he's a very good, intelligent player who should have a role with this organization for the foreseeable future.
A few more thoughts after the jump:
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