So you're the New Jersey Nets. You're 3-32 and fresh off two very embarrassing losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks earlier in the week. You're facing a team that's a great home team and has won their last four games. You manage to hang around most of the game but are still down 9 with about three minutes to go. Then, through a series of bizarre calls and fortuitous bounces, you find yourselves up 1 point with about 12 seconds left. You look at the stat sheet and you realize two areas that have absolutely killed you all year - rebounding and three-point shooting - are in your favor.
And you still lose. You lose because one of the league's best player's made a bucket and a foul with 7 seconds left off a bread and butter pick and roll play, and you can't even get a final shot off because of a nickel and dime offensive foul call off a "moving" screen by Yi Jianlian. Most of the time, I bet the refs ignore what Yi is doing on the screen, but when you're 3-32, the refs are looking for you to shoot yourself in the foot.
So my question to you, the Nets, is how are you going to respond? Is this a team-building experience where you emphasize the fact that you came back and nearly pulled what would have been one of the best comebacks in the NBA this year? Or does this become just another demoralizing loss, a belt that already has enough notches this season?
With the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets, you just don't know. I thought their gritty loss to Cleveland last Saturday was a turning point, and it set the stage for one of the most frustrating 5-day stretches for the Nets this season, which says a lot. Obviously, I hope last night's 103-99 loss to the New Orleans Hornets is a stepping stone. The Nets were down 94-85 with 2:46 left in this game when Brook Lopez was fouled and hit a free throw. Devin Harris was actually taken out of the game and I had figured the Nets were going into shutdown mode, destined for another innocuous 12-point loss.
But I guess the Nets have a little spirit after all. With Harris struggling (4 points, 2-9 shooting), Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian having so-so nights (14 and 8 points respectively), it was going to have to be one of the Nets wingmen who stepped it up, and Courtney Lee answered the bell. He had been deadly from long-range all game, finishing with 28 points including, 5-7 from three. But what was more impressive was how Lee just took over in the closing minutes. He hit a three to cut the Hornets' lead to seven, and then was 5-5 from the free throw line down the stretch, finding his way there through bizarre circumstances.
First, with the Nets were inbounding the ball, down 3 with 20 seconds left, James Posey made a foul away from the play, giving the Nets a FT and the ball. A layup by Keyon Dooling, who also seemed determined to carry this team, scoring 21 points in 23 minutes on 8-11 shooting (4-7 three), cut the Hornets lead to 1. Then Lee made a steal off the inbounds pass. Was there a foul on the play? Who knows. Lee actually missed a makable layup, but got awarded FTs and hit them both.
Freeze it in time, and the Nets have an improbably comeback. Of course it didn't work out that way. It never does. Now, I wait anxiously to see which Nets team show up on Sunday.
More thoughts after the jump.
- So off my post yesterday, here's a little look at two point guards struggling with their shots. One helps his teammates win, and one may have been off the court in the closing minutes if an eye injury to Chris Douglas-Roberts hadn't forced him back in. He may have hit the game winner, but Chris Paul was just not in any kind of offensive groove all game. He was 4-9 from the field, and a surprising 2-5 from the FT line to finish with 11 point. But he still helped his team by collecting 18 (!) assists. The Nets as a team only had 22. Devin Harris was just a total non-factor. He was 2-9 from the field, didn't attempt a single free throw, and had 4 assists. Kiki Vandeweghe's substitution of Devo towards the end of the game raised my eyebrow a bit. Was he just trying to give his "star" player a breather? Was he getting him out because he was struggling? Is Devin hurt? I could be making excuses, but I wondering if Devo is still struggling with his groin issues, and it's going to affect him all season.
- For the record, Yi Jianlian was carping a lot out there tonight. With about 3 minutes left, Yi corralled a rebound, and was then stripped by Emeka Okafor, who he proceeded to foul. Yi complained the whole time, claiming he was fouled on the stip, but on replays, I didn't see what the issue was. Yi botched the play. I bring this up, obviously, because of the offensive foul call on Yi at the end of the game. It was clearly a ticky-tack foul, one that's more likely to be called 10 seconds into a game, rather than with 10 seconds left in the game. But I've noticed since his return from injury, in addition to being aggressive with his shot taking, Yi's been aggressive with the refs. And I wonder if it bit him and the Nets in the rear here. Payback's a you know what…
- It was a little dispiriting how the Nets were hitting the threes last night, but still couldn't utilize it to get any kind of a post game going for Brook Lopez. There was a great play towards the start of the second quarter where Yi was getting double in the post while Dooling had the ball up behind the three-point line on the right wing. After trying to get the ball to the post, Dooling calmly shot the ball and hit the three. I would have liked to see the Nets run that play more often, rather than force the ball into the paint, or see Brook or Yi kick it back up and, repost for a change.
- David West (32 points, 10 rebounds) was just dominating the Nets on both ends all night. He was definitely taking it to Yi early in the game, and Yi earned a spot on the bench despite not picking up any fouls. There was a stretch in the third quarter where Trenton Hassell was at the four where West picked it up again.
- Trenton Hassell had an under the radar night, scoring 8 point son 4-7 shooting, seemingly hitting shots in the third quarter when the Nets were on the verge of being put away.
- DNP - Coach's Decision for Terrence "Sleepytime" Williams.