For the first 24 minutes of today's Nets-Knicks game, it looked as if the Nets were still brimming with confidence from their first victory Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats. They played an uptempo first half, scoring 61points, off a number of drives by Devin Harris (19 points, 6 assists, 3 steals), and some steady outside shooting from Chris Douglas-Roberts and Keyon Dooling.
But things changed dramatically in the second half. The Nets were stymied by the Knicks zone defense. They were unable to get the ball inside to Brook Lopez (19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks) as the Knicks clogged the post and Devin Harris lost his ability to drive the lane. The Nets also stopped hitting their open jumpers. One game after his offensive explosion, Courtney Lee (4 points) struggled all day from the outside. Returning from injury for the first time since Wednesday night, Rafer Alston continued his horrid shooting, finishing 3-11 for 8 points, including 1-5 for three point land.
What was most curious about the second half were some of the player rotations used Kiki Vandeweghe. The usual starting five of Devin-Courtney Lee-CDR-Josh Boone and Brook Lopez kicked off the game and played most of the first quarter together, but from the second quarter on, Kiki went with a small line-up to try and match-up better with the Knicks. In some instances, this led to Trenton Hassell and Terrence Williams playing the four and guarding Al Harrington.
While this might have seemed like a good idea on paper, the plan failed in the second half bigtime. The Knicks were able to score at will in the third quarter, and at the end of the game, outrebounded the Nets 48-32, including 15 offensive boards. No one was able to get a big body on Al Harrington, who continued his dominance of the Nets with 26 points and 14 rebounds.
I'm not normally an advocate of Bobby Simmons playing the four, but he never even got into the game today. If you're trying to go small, why not put him in there in the third quarter as the Knicks went on their run and the Nets were back on their heels? Because of the zone, non-jump shooters like Hassell and TWill were left to take shots with the shot clock expiring. Bobby Simmons, while wildly inconsistent, is at least, technically a shooter, so he might have been able to help the Nets bust the zone from the outside.
It would have also been nice to see either Boone, Tony Battie, or Sean Williams playing alongside Lopez down the stretch, to help out with rebounding. Because the Knicks are a tough team to match up with, Sean Williams, who has more athleticism than Boone or Battie, might have been worth a look. Can't kill Boone too much however, as despite getting beat by Harrington on a few possessions earlier in the game, played a solid 21 minutes, grabbing 7 rebounds and blocking two shots, including a one on Chris Duhon when Boone was matched up with Duhon off a defensive switch. Boone did a great job sticking with the faster point guard in the one-on-one situation and blocked his layup attempt at the rim.
Despite the letdown today after Friday night's breakthrough victory, there were some positive signs for the Nets. Devin Harris seemed to be getting some of his mojo back until the Knicks clogged the lane in the second half. Brook Lopez had a good game, despite only taking 9 field goal attempts. It was also great to see Keyon Dooling hitting some shots today, and I can only hope as he gets his conditioning back, he can play well enough to move Rafer Alston further down the bench. If Dooling and Harris can stay healthy long enough, I think it's a matter of time before the Nets either trade him or buy him out, because Rafer just does not fit on this team.
Read some final thoughts after the jump:
- As has been the case with Chris Douglas-Roberts this season, there was some good things and bad things about his performance. The good: 26 points on 10-18 shooting, including a bunch of mid-range jumpers which he's struggled to hit with consistency this season. The bad? Not a single free throw attempt which is just inexplicable for a player who's most effective offensively around the rim. He also keeps having too many possessions where he dribbles the ball way too much and ends up forcing his teammates into a bad shot with the shot clock expiring. Case in point was around the 5 minute mark in the third quarter where the Nets were back on their heels from a Knicks run and CDR was dribbling for a solid chunk of time in the corner, trying to get his shot off. When he couldn't make anything happening, he passed out to Trenton Hassell who missed a contested 20-footer. Hassell was the last guy I wanted to see taking a 20-foot jumper during that third quarter, but CDR literally painted himself into a corner and the Nets had no other options.Until Devin Harris (1-4 from three) starting hitting his jumpers with consistency, teams should feel free to double Brook Lopez at will. The Nets desperately need two guys clicking offensively and Harris hasn't been one of those guys since his return from injury.
Despite struggling all game, it was nice seeing Courtney Lee take the ball to the hoop in the 4th quarter to try and get his team going.
Terrence Williams is so lost right now, it's not even funny. He's not even attempting to drive to the hoop, settling for terrible jumpers, and he's now not even contributing with rebounds, steals or assists. This might be Kiki's biggest challenge next to working with Yi (if he ever returns to his lineup. For some news on Yi's setback this weekend, click here). Kiki has to find a way to get production out of Terrence Williams.
So let's see how many more teams start playing zone defense against the Nets now.