After the Nets came crashing down against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, Brook Lopez preached that the team had not given up hope, that they would keep fighting.
Tonight, we saw that team.
Although the game got off to an incredibly sloppy start on both sides, including an absurd 14 combined first quarter turnovers, the Nets weathered the storm in the second quarter thanks to Jarrett Jack’s three-point shooting, Joe Johnson’s facilitating, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s crafty slashing. Without Jeff Teague and Kent Bazmore, the Atlanta Hawks were uncharacteristically wasteful and finished with a jaw-dropping 20 turnovers, but the Nets couldn’t take advantage in the first half.
On a night when Ian Eagle regretfully announced to viewers that Comcast would be dropping the YES Network at midnight with an empty Barclays Center backdrop behind him, it was hard not to think that the state of New York might not want the Nets either.
But there they were, hanging tight with those tough Atlanta Hawks and taking punch after punch. Joe Johnson hit some of his signature pull-up floaters in the post, Thaddeus Young was classic Thad, and the Nets pulled off some incredible magic. Following a swarming defensive stand, Dennis Schroder was forced into an off-balance shot that Young rebounded before taking off downcourt. The Hawks, perhaps surprised that Lionel Hollins did not call a timeout, struggled to get back defensively and Young went crashing to the floor with 1.4 seconds left.
Cool, calm, and collected, despite the hard fall moments before, Young stepped up to the line and nailed both free throws. After the timeout, the Hawks tossed the ball towards the post, Young poked it away, and that was that.
The Nets won.
At the end of the day, the Nets were not supposed to beat the Golden State Warriors on Saturday and they certainly aren’t supposed to compete at the level of this Hawks team that thrashed them in Game 6 last April. But after Lopez so confidently proclaimed that this was a team of fighters and believers, the Nets proved tonight that such an effort is not only contagious, but can keep overmatched teams battling through the entire forty-eight minute frame.
The stats: 24 PTS, 11-21 FG%, 11 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 3 BLK, 1 TO
Hey, did you know that coming into tonight’s games, Brook Lopez was averaging 2.4 blocks per game? Did you know it ranked him 6th in the entire league and just three-tenths behind everybody’s preseason pick for Defensive Player of the Year, Anthony Davis?
For a very long time, Lopez has been praised as one of the league’s best offensive centers, but he’s also gotten his fair share of criticism about his man-to-man defense and rim-protecting abilities. Although you still might not want Lopez guarding Kevin Durant with the NBA Finals on the line, he’s already changed a handful of shot he might not have even contested last season.
Tonight, the Nets, finally, seemed to make a more concerted effort to get their big man the ball and the results were palpable. It’s not a terribly difficult strategy and the problem has an even simpler solution, so seeing the tide slowly change is a welcomed addition for everybody involved.
The stats: 7 PTS, 3-5 FG%, 2 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 1 TO
On a night where almost everybody else (we see you, Shane) seemed content to drift in and out of the game during the first half, it was the rookie that tracked Kyle Korver, got his long arms involved, and brought that Tuesday energy the Barclays Center so dearly lacked. Although Rondae Hollis-Jefferson clearly has a problem leaving his feet with nowhere to go, the fact that he stole the ball and created chaos beforehand helps negate some of those growing pains.