The Nets finally succeeded in rewriting a painfully familiar script in their 103-101 road victory against the Chicago Bulls last night.
Headed into the fourth quarter, the Nets had a comfortable 10-point lead and looked to be in total control. Brook Lopez (25 points, 10 rebounds) was dominating in the post, Chris Douglas-Roberts (20 points, 3 blocks), was a functional second scoring option and the Nets were taking advantage of some sloppiness by the Bulls en route to 14 team steals.
But those who have followed the Nets this year know this team has rarely strung four solid quarters of play together. The Bulls went on a run in the fourth quarter, and all of a sudden, the Nets play-by-play guys were talking about how the Nets had missed 10 shots on a row, and were making suspect rotations on the defensive end, leading to back-to-back treys by Chicago's John Salmons and Luol Deng. Suddenly, I was having flashbacks to the third quarter against the Knicks on Sunday, or the third quarter against Milwaukee last month, or that awful fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves opening night. You probably all thought it too - the Nets go cold - the opposition gets hot. The Nets then breakdown completely and another game is lost.
Yet, the Nets didn't lose last night. Really, for the first time this season, this team struggled for a quarter, took the opposing team's best shot, and still came out on top. Devin Harris (17 points, 6 assists, 4 steals) got roped into a game of one-upmanship with Bulls PG Derrick Rose (27 points, 10 assists), with Devo coming out on top. Rose hit a jumper with 4:48 remaining to tie the game at 88, and Harris came back with a three pointer to put the Nets back on top. Then, Rose put the Bulls ahead 94-93 with 3:21 remaining, so Harris came back again with one of his vintage, reckless abandon drives to the hoop to put the Nets up one. And just as all hope seemed lost for the Nets and Rose put the Bulls up 100-99 with a running floater with 19.5 seconds remaining, Harris drove to the hoop once more for two, to give the Nets the lead for good.
Point-wise, it might have looked like a lackluster night for Harris, especially when you consider the 5-12 shooting. But make no mistake - this was the Devin Harris the team was looking to build its core around when they traded Vince Carter in June. This Harris who is able to take over games when they matter most, using his speed and daring to get into the lane and score. We saw glimpses of that Harris in the first half of Sunday's game against the Knicks, but seeing this Harris show up in crunch time is a first for 2009-10.
Let's not forget another big offensive contributor early-on last night. Rafer Alston was on fire in the first half, making 5 of 6 shots, including a three-pointer, and a few long twos. It's been a long time since we saw this Rafer Alston. In fact, I thought he was lost somewhere in Orlando. But if the Nets could get a performance like that out of one of their bench guys each night, they're probably going to start playing a lot better overall.
Finally, let's hear it for some coaching. Loved some of the decisions made by Kiki Vandeweghe and Del Harris. In the game's closing seconds, they went small, substituting wisely by getting Rafer Alston on the floor for Devin's deciding layup, keeping the Bulls defense honest around the perimeter. Then, as the Bulls got their last chance, Tony Battie was subbed in to get more rebounders on the floor. With the way Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were tipping and grabbing offensive boards all night (9 combined, 16 offensive boards overall for the Bulls), it was critical to get Battie or Boone back out there. And of course, Kiki/Del didn't forget to foul Rose after Alston's free throws, not allowing the Bulls an attempt to tie the game on a three. This all sounds simple enough, but some of these substitutions and calls weren't being made a couple of weeks ago.
Final, final thoughts after the jump:
- Let's jump right to Terrence Williams. He didn't play last night, and I applaud that decision. As I mentioned yesterday, TWill needs to sit out a few games and think about his situation. The fact that the Nets went on to win without him, should make the experience all the more meaningful for him. If he wants to utilize Twitter to be controversial, that's his choice. But the Nets shouldn't let it go unpunished. And before anyone says anything, I think there's a major difference between CDR calling his teammates soft in a postage press conference, and TWill using Twitter to talk about the possibilities of getting drafted by another team.
- Lost in the first half shuffle was another nice performance by Josh Boone. The guy still has next to no offensive ability, but he has some noticeable pep in his step lately. He grabbed 10 rebounds, 5 of them offensive boards, and seemed to do a lot of the little things Sean Williams had been doing for a short spurt a few weeks ago, before reverting back to his inconsistent self. If Boone is able to embrace it, he could be very valuable as an energy rebounding/defense guy off the bench once Yi Jianlian gets back on the court.
- I'm growing more concerned with Courtney Lee with each bad game he collects. How does a player look so good on Friday, to so-so on Sunday, to timid and terrible last night? Sure, he finished with 13 points, but he was 3-13 from the field and looked outright afraid to take an open shot in the fourth quarter. As it stands, Lee actually passed on a shot that led to Harris' three with 4:48 remaining, so it worked out for the Nets, but Lee can't shy away from the ball like that.
- I was intrigued to see Tony Battie get the call down the stretch at PF. I can't say he necessarily added anything that Boone couldn't (his +/- was -8 for the game), but Battie is a veteran guy who's won a few games in the past, so if there's some intangible factor Kiki is considering, I'm all for trying it until it fails.
- Brook Lopez jumper watch: He attempted one jumper, a make from 19-feet. It's the kind of shot he should take once or twice a game to keep defenses honest. At the 1:10 mark in the second quarter, Brook's defender was fooled when Brook got the ball at the top of the key and faked a pass to the post. So with a ton of space in front of him, Lopez took the shot and made it. It's when Brook starts settling for those jumpers and takes more than one or two a game that I become worried.
- Interesting disconcerting fact of the day: CDR's total free throw attempts the past three games? Two. Granted, there was a big non-call on Douglas-Roberts with about 35 seconds left when he took it strong to the rim, got hammered, but didn't earn a whistle from the refs.
- By the way, hearing the YES announcers emphatically say the Nets won their first road game of the season is cheapened by the fact that this season is already 21 games old.