I guess it would be poor form for me to start off a game recap by saying “the Nets are jinxed.” No one is going to take me seriously if I start speculating about how maybe this is the “curse of Vince Carter” or maybe this is some retribution from the basketball gods who are trying to stick it to Bruce Ratner for desperately wanting to move this organization to Brooklyn.
That’s just ridiculous, right? Because 0-10 starts to the season, along with a horrific amount of injuries to key players and losing a game by 1 point because of a Dwyane Wade buzzer-beater after Trenton Hassell literally blanketed Wade during the possession, are just routine, totally acceptable occurrences in sports. Going the route of jinxes, or curses, or offended sports gods is just not rational.
In all seriousness (yes, I was sorta joking above), these are the kinds of games as a fan that just give me nightmares. While the Nets have had some questionable end-of-game scenarios since the season began, there was nothing about how last night’s 81-80 loss to the Heat ended that I could kill the Nets for, besides the actual results. With about 25 seconds left in the game, Quentin Richardson drilled a three to tie things up while Chris Douglas-Roberts was playing him about as well as you could ask for from a defender. And still, the Nets came back with 4 seconds left with a tip-in from Brook Lopez off the Rafer Alston miss. Yes, the Heat still obviously had more than enough time to take the game back, but finally, for the first time this season, momentum was all on the Nets’ side in the game’s final seconds.
The Wade play, which ended up giving the Heat its final three points and the win, looked like it was about to busted up by Hassell. Wade had briefly lost possession of the ball during his dribble, but was able to recover to get the shot off, with Hassell still in his face. But Dwyane Wade is a superstar, one of the best players in the NBA who’s born to make these kinds of killer shots. There is nobody currently playing for the Nets right now that comes remotely close to Wade’s level of deliverance.
Trying to mention something positive about this game, the Nets saw a Sean Williams last night who looked like he had some legitimate star-power. I had mentioned after Friday’s loss to Orlando that Sean Williams seemed to be turning a corner, so during this period of win-lessness and injuries, he deserved to get his number called more by Lawrence Frank. Last night, Williams didn’t get an opportunity until the third quarter, but he ended up playing perhaps his finest 15 minutes as a Net. It wasn’t just that he scored 12 points on 6-7 shooting that was impressive, it was how and when he was doing it. He was grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring on a series of putbacks and jump hooks. Then, with 42 seconds left, he drilled an absolutely clutch jump shot from the right elbow as the Nets looked to be breaking down on offense. On the next play, Williams made a fantastic block on Michael Beasley in the corner while he was attempting a three-pointer. The only problem was he couldn’t keep the ball inbounds, so Miami regained possession, which of course led to the Richardson three-ball to tie the game.
After last night, there is no reason for Lawrence Frank not to play Sean Williams early and often. He doesn’t have to start at PF, but considering how Bobby Simmons (who missed last night’s game for personal reasons), isn’t really a very good option at the four, Josh Boone seems afraid to attempt any kind of field goal outside of garbage putbacks, and Eduardo Najera is just not a very good defender anymore, the time has come to just give the keys to the car to Sean Williams. If he ends up crashing it after a couple of games, then you take it away again, but after watching him the past two nights, it’s just outrageous to think about how this team has been playing with 8 healthy players for more than a week, and Williams is only now just getting into games. These are the kinds of fickle coaching decisions Lawrence Frank makes that make it very hard to defend those who want to give him the benefit of the doubt. You have to put your team in a position to win, and not using Sean Williams when your roster has been decimated by injuries because you’re still trying to teach him some kind of lesson about concentration and effort is just insane. Let the kid play. He’s earned it.
In a one-point game there are a lot of plays you can look back at as key plays, so let’s examine a few after the jump.
1:17, 1st quarter: I know Terrence Williams is the only legitimate backup option at PG to Rafer Alston right now, but once Devin Harris and Keyon Dooling get back on the court, the TWill PG experiment needs to be tabled indefinitely. During this play, Williams attempts a dribble drive and ends up losing the ball on his foot. He recovers and brings the ball back out before kicking it to Chris Douglas-Roberts with the shot clock still ticking down. CDR ends up holding the ball a few seconds before attempting to do anything with it, and passes it off to Eduardo Najera who has to rush a bad, contested shot, from the right elbow, getting a shot clock violation. While there were a lot of culprits involved with that play breaking down, it all started through TWill who was just never in control from the start. For someone who was advertised as a “point forward,” Williams ball-handling skills are very questionable – and even the use of “questionable” may be giving him too much credit.
10:05, 3rd quarter: Before last night’s game, if you told me Udonis Haslem would score 28 points (and grab 12 rebounds) off the bench, I would have called your crazy, but the Nets just never got into the habit of guarding him all evening, even after he started drilling 18-footers early on. On this one play, Haslem received the ball on a pick and pop set about 18 feet away on the left side. Josh Boone, who was defending Haslem, looked like he was running in sand trying to get over to cover him. Haslem had already released the shot, when Boone half-heartedly threw a hand in his face. Even worse, the Heat ran a similar play about 3 minutes later, and this time, there wasn’t a Net defender within 5 feet of Haslem, who calmly hit the uncontested 18-footer.
5:17 3rd quarter: Trenton Hassell, who may be the biggest surprise for the Nets in the early-going, has the ball at the top of the key with about 3 seconds left on the shot clock. It looks to be another wasted possession for the Nets but Hassell gives a pump fake and gets Dwayne Wade airborne. But rather than drawing contact from Wade to bay himself out, Hassell opts to pass the ball over to CDR in the corner who misses a three. Hassell needs to take control of that play and recognize how Wade was off his feet and seemed destined to pick up another foul if Hassell had just waited another split second and forced the contact.
10:32, 4th quarter: Sean Williams was so good last night, he was even making great plays without the ball. In this instance, with Douglas-Roberts bringing the ball up on the left side of the court, Williams set a murderous backpick on the Heat, clearing the way for CDR to drive to the hoop and dunk it home in traffic. Just a great, great play by Williams.
- Brook Lopez still finished with 17 points, but pulled a disappearing act in the second and third quarters. He was settling for way too many jumpers and never really took it in the paint against the undersized Joel Anthony, who may have the greatest NBA.com profile shot ever.
- Is it me, or does Trenton Hassell almost always hit his first one or two open jumpers at the start of the game, before missing almost every other jumper going forward?
- Big props to Rafer Alston, who I’m sensing is really starting to carry this team on his back. Obviously, it hasn’t resulted in a win yet, but he hit a big time three-pointer in the game’s closing minute and he seemed pretty pumped by it.
- The team ran a couple of full-court presses early in the game, but seemed to abandon that strategy in the second half. It’s a shame because they seemed to result in a couple of turnovers.
- Is it wrong for me, as a big time Simpsons fan to always chuckle when I hear “Chalmers” (Skinner!).
- Good pickup by last night’s YES team at the start of the fourth quarter when Josh Boone had a one on one situation with his back to the basket along the right-side baseline. Boone opted to pass the ball, and (I think) Marv Albert questioned why Boone just doesn’t have the confidence to do anything offensively in those situations.