The Morning After: Never Has Mediocrity Looked So Good

Deron Williams

Deron Williams & the Nets had a lot to celebrate Monday night. (AP)

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Here’s a roundup of last night’s Nets festivities.

What happened: The Brooklyn Nets put together arguably their best effort of the season, taking down the Chicago Bulls 96-80 in their first game at home since February 12th.

Where they stand: At 29-29, the Nets climb back to .500 for the first time since early November, maintaining their stronghold on the sixth seed. They’re now one game back from the Washington Wizards for the fifth seed and 3.5 games behind the Raptors for the Atlantic Division.

By the Numbers: Deron Williams led the Nets with 20 points and six assists, shooting 6-11 and hitting seven of his eight free throws. Joe Johnson added 19 points, hitting three of four three-pointers and finishing 7-11 from the field. Paul Pierce was on triple-double watch after one half, and finished the game with 14 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and four steals in 31 minutes. The Nets racked up 19 steals and forced the Bulls into a season-high 28 turnovers, which led directly to 30 bonus points for Brooklyn.

That Was… An incredible effort, start to finish, from a team missing its defensive fulcrum. Even with Kevin Garnett resting due to back spasms, the Nets dominated the Chicago Bulls in a way they haven’t done in Brooklyn since Game 1 of last year’s first-round series. They created open shots, forced 28 turnovers, hit open three-pointers and dunks alike, and made the Bulls look like a lottery team. It was a beacon of hope for a team that hadn’t beaten a team with an above-.500 record that wasn’t resting three of its starters since January 24th.

How The Rest Was Won: The Bulls, noted undead zombies that never fade quietly, made one final push in the fourth quarter, and an open corner three-pointer by Bulls guard D.J. Augustin cut the lead to 80-71 with 6:32 left to play. The lead was no longer in hand, Jason Kidd called a timeout, prayer was had, fear was realized.

Then this happened, back to back to back.

It was a sublime sequence, a beautiful snapshot of this team at its versatile offensive peak. A high screen-and-roll gave Deron Williams an open three-pointer, his only made three of the night. A somewhat broken play led to quick ball movement and an open dunk for Andrei Kirilenko, the team’s versatile octopus. And at the end of it all, a swift, cruel dagger of imminent death through Chicago’s midsection from hired gun and future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce on a three-pointer over long, defensive-minded forward Taj Gibson from 25 feet he had no business taking and all business making.

Game Grades: Read ‘em here.

Deron Williams, Great At Layups Again:

These type of plays shouldn’t be incredible anomalies for Williams, but ankle and wrist injuries have hampered him since he joined the Nets in 2011. Williams continued his struggles with his long-range shot, failing to convert on three of four three-point attempts. But attacking the basket has become a regular theme in his game again, which thus allows him to do awesome things like this.

So pretty.

So pretty.

When told he hit some acrobatic layups, Williams offered a sheepish smile. “I did, didn’t I?”

Hot Start: Bolstered by some early excellence from Shaun Livingston, the Nets rocketed out to leads of 8-0, 14-3, and 19-8. It was an all-around effort, but Livingston was the star early: he drew a foul after faking out Mike Dunleavy on a fast break, hit his patented short-range jumper, and spread the ball around as a point guard should. Their early start proved crucial; it helped them absorb a mid-half run by Chicago as Brooklyn struggled to score.

PLUMDOGGIN: Mason Plumlee had the two finest highlights of the night. See the first one here, and the other one here.

My Thoughts At The Half: This looks way more like the Nets team they should be, against a team that’s normally their kryptonite.

How Many Seconds Did It Take Jason Collins To Commit His First Foul?

It took five seconds for Jason Collins to commit his first foul.

Jason Collins made his home debut with 2:41 left in the fourth quarter, receiving a standing ovation from the sellout crowd, and promptly hit Taj Gibson as Gibson put in a five-footer. Never change, Jason Collins. You’re fine just the way you are.

Lots of people want to hear about screens:

The above, courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets Vine account, is the media huddle surrounding Jason Collins following the game.

Sounds Like David Stern Is Enjoying Retirement:

I’m Not Even Mad, Andrei Kirilenko:
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Kirilenko threw this one down well after the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter, but it was so impossibly elastic and cool I couldn’t help but love it. Air Andrei to the GIF rescue.

Turn Up: The Nets recorded a season-high 19 steals, forced a season-high 28 turnovers, and scored a season-high 30 points off turnovers. It was a team defensive effort unlike many the Nets have seen all year, and again, they did it without Kevin Garnett.

Let’s Just Lump All The Bad Things Here: In a great win, you don’t want to focus on the negatives. But here they are: Marcus Thornton took Alan Anderson’s rotation spot and couldn’t score, Mirza Teletovic had another curiously off night, and Andrei Kirilenko shoots free throws with the grace of a sledgehammer. Since Teletovic’s breakout performance against the Dallas Mavericks on January 24th, Teletovic has shot 26.5 percent from three-point range on nearly five threes per game.

Seen In The Tunnel: Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had a strong contingent of friends and family at the game, and they came down to meet him afterwards. Thibodeau, who coached Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett as an assistant under Doc Rivers from 2007-2010 and won an NBA title in 2008 with the Boston Celtics, stopped Pierce in the hallway with the help of a small child. The child looked up to Pierce and said, “2008 was a good year for you guys.”

Quote of the Night:

No.

-Jason Kidd, on if he put in Jason Collins because he heard the crowd chanting his name.

Across the river: The Knicks, who lost last night to these Chicago Bulls and somehow only forced three turnovers in that game, lost once again, this time 96-85 to the Detroit Pistons. The loss drops the Knicks to 21-40 and 6.5 games out of a playoff spot.

As Jason Concepcion said so eloquently: they’re not just losing, they’re exploring the concept of losing.

Next up: The Nets practice in Brooklyn Tuesday before taking on the 34-25 Memphis Grizzlies (who are somehow out of a playoff spot in the strong Western Conference) Wednesday, who beat the Washington Wizards 110-104 in Washington last night. It’s their first chance to go over .500 this season.