For Nets fans, there was a lot to be frustrated about in last night's 103-99 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves: getting bullied in the paint and the glass by Al Jefferson (28 points, 7 rebounds) and Kevin Love (13 points, 16 rebounds), Johnny Flynn (22 points, 5 assists) running amok for three quarters, an unfortunate (but correct) call reversal by the refs that ended up giving the T'Wolves the ball back, up 2, with about 25 seconds left in the game, and a bizarre final possession that saw the Nets down 4, yet playing for one shot (and not even getting one off).
But rather than focus on the negative - and let's face it, at 2-27, there's just a lot of negative about the New Jersey Nets this season - let's try to accentuate the positive. And to do that, I have to start with Yi Jianlian.
After missing the past 7 weeks with a knee sprain, I wasn't expecting much from Yi in his return. Despite some ruminations in practice earlier this week, he wasn't going to start, and Kiki Vandeweghe stressed he was going to get limited minutes. Add in the fact that Yi has a track record of not being very sharp coming off an injury, there was little reason to believe he was going to be a factor last night.
Instead, Yi forced Kiki's hand and ended up playing a spectacular 30 minutes where he scored 22 points on 7-12 shooting, including 4-6 from three. After looking a bit tentative when he first checked in the game, picking up a couple of fouls and committing a turnover, Yi got a fast break dunk off an outlet pass from Keyon Dooling, and never looked back. He hit his first three at the top of the key at the 1:24 mark, and when the Wolves kept leaving him open in the second quarter, he responded by making three more long jumpers, including another three from the left corner at the 9:37 mark.
What was even more impressive was that Yi was calling for the ball all night. He wanted to shoot. When he drilled a three from the top of the key with about 3:20 left in the game to cut Minnesota's lead to 92-90, Yi emphatically thumped his chest. It was just a surreal sight - the otherwise mild mannered Yi finally looking like a go-to guy in an NBA game.
And it wasn't just scoring. Yi was active on the glass, grabbing 8 boards, and fighting against some pretty tenacious rebounders in Love and Jefferson.
Unfortunately, the Nets couldn't fully reap the benefits of having a big man who could shoot out on the floor because Brook Lopez was just so bad all night. It's forgivable given just how good Brook has been this season, but Lopez looked off from the get-go, botching a couple of lob passes from Devin Harris in the post. He did have a nice passing game going early (7 assists total), especially with Courtney Lee (20 points, 8-16 shooting, 3-4 from three), who got two baseline dunks in the first quarter off dishes from Lopez. But he finished the game with 9 points, and was 5-10 from the free throw line - a routinely solid part of his game. One of those free throws would have cut the Minnesota lead to one with less than 30 seconds left in the game, making the foul a more logical call for the Nets (keeping it to one possession max). Just imagine what kind of two-man game could have been established if Brook was banging around in the post and if Yi was drilling his jumpers with the same efficiency? That dream scenario will have to wait at least another game. Then again, the Nets have rarely been able to put together a complete game this season, with all of their key guys contributing at the same time, for all four quarters.
Read a few more thoughts after the jump.
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