Baffled Nets embarrassed at home on Christmas Day

Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah
Chicago’s bench was all smiles as the Bulls romped on Christmas. (AP)
Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah
Chicago’s bench was all smiles as the Bulls romped on Christmas. (AP)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — A fidgeting Deron Williams had no answers after his team’s latest loss.

“I don’t even know what to tell you, man,” a despondent Williams sighed in the locker room, roughly an hour after the game. “It’s bothered us all year, and if I had an explanation, you could figure it out and change it.”

With boos raining from the rafters and intermittent chants of “Fire Kidd!” throughout the second half, Williams & the Nets suffered an embarrassing 95-78 loss at Barclays Center Wednesday afternoon to the 10-16 Chicago Bulls, in front of a national television audience that kicked off the Christmas Day slate of games. The loss drops the Nets further back in the Eastern Conference, as they fall to 9-19 on the season and send fans at home darting towards the holiday eggnog.

Coach Jason Kidd questioned the team’s energy and effort after the game, a recurring theme for a bottom-feeding team that expected to compete for a championship less than two months ago. The Nets couldn’t give him an answer.

“We’re on a big stage and there’s big games, we’re trying to get on track, and to come out and put up a performance like that in our building, it’s not fun,” Williams added.

“It’s like a nightmare. The way the injuries have been and the things we talk about every day: the lack of energy, the lack of effort. I didn’t see that being a problem when we put this team together.”

Though the game wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t a blowout right away. The two teams played each other mostly to a stalemate in the first quarter, with simple pick-and-rolls from the Nets countering a more complicated set of misdirections from the Bulls offense.

The Nets tried switching it up in the second, running Jason Terry (who checked in to begin the second quarter) around off-ball screens to set the defense in motion, but two straight turnovers meant the Nets went back to their bread-and-butter: pick-and-rolls with Williams and ball movement around the perimeter, in the hopes that a tough Bulls defense would show a hole in 24 seconds. It didn’t.

Nets forward Teletovic caught fire for a brief point in the third, scoring ten quick points to open the quarter and even giving the Nets a brief lead. Williams was also one of the team’s few bright spots on offense tonight, finishing with an efficient 18 points on 6-10 shooting, but his departure in the middle of the third quarter set the table for the loss.

But with about five minutes left in the third and the Nets down 57-52, Williams caught a knee from Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich and began limping. He was quickly removed by coach Jason Kidd from the game to rest.

“I got kneed,” Williams simply said.

With Williams out, the Bulls took advantage, going on a 20-4 tear and taking an 82-61 lead before Williams returned to the game with 8:45 in the fourth quarter. Seven Bulls players scored in under eight minutes, as the team shot 9-14 from the field, pushed the pace for nine fast-break points, and held the Nets to just two field goals.

“D-Will is an unbelievable player,” Teletovic said of the team’s point guard. “With him, we run more pick-and-roll, we spread the court, we had a lot of wide-open shots and easy baskets.”

Without him, even for a brief stretch, they ran straight into a loss.

The third-quarter woes have been a routine for this team, and they know it. They just don’t know how to solve it.

“That’s always the same story, the same song, the third quarter,” Andray Blatche said after the game. “We always put in a good fight in the first and second quarter, then the third quarter, we’ll be right there in the game then have a bad stretch. … I don’t know what the problem is.”

Joe Johnson, who normally gives lengthy, thoughtful responses to questions, was curt in the locker room after the game, giving quick, incisive thoughts — or befuddlement — on the team’s struggles.

“Honestly man, I do not have the answers to your question,” Johnson said when asked about the team’s energy. “I don’t know. Just have to keep coming in every day seeing what we have to do to try and turn it around.”

The Nets have one more game at home, against a beatable Milwaukee Bucks team, before a rough three-game road trip against the 23-5 Indiana Pacers, the 22-6 San Antonio Spurs, and the 22-5 Oklahoma City Thunder. With Brook Lopez lost for the season and the team’s energy level fluid from night to night, the Nets could head into the New Year without hitting double-digits in wins.