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Here’s a roundup of last night’s Nets festivities.
What happened: The Nets won a close, ugly affair, holding off the Charlotte Bobcats down the stretch and making plays in key moments to close out the fourth quarter and pull out the victory, 104-99.
Where they stand: This game pushed the Nets to 35-31, and put them in a prime spot to secure one of the top six seeds in the playoffs. The win puts the Nets a full 3.5 games ahead of the Bobcats, who currently hold the seventh seed, and guarantees them the tiebreaker in the unlikely event that Charlotte and Brooklyn end the season with identical records.
The Nets are also two games behind both the fourth-seeded Chicago Bulls and Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors.
Perhaps most important of all, just three of Brooklyn’s final 16 games come against teams with a record above .500.
That Was… A slogging 44 minutes before the game tightened up and the Nets executed, getting important stops, hitting free throws, and making key shots.
The game-deciding play was simple and predictable: a Deron Williams isolation midrange jumper at the top of the key that put the Nets up 100-95 with 37.8 seconds left. Though I usually fire off at isolation play with the furor of an open leaper at the rim who can’t get the ball, it was the right play to make.
It’s the right play for two reasons. Firstly, Williams has shot 53.5 percent from 16-24 feet and 60.9 percent from that specific zone above the free throw line this season, and the best way to get a clean look going towards the basket in that situation is to spread the floor and give him the space to create.
Secondly, and more importantly: because Williams is such a talented creator and the game hangs in the balance, man defenses tighten up and won’t often throw double-coverage at him. Joe Johnson explained that to me before the season when we talked about his clutch shooting: “Nobody wants their man to make the shot at this point in the game. So I know nobody’s leaving.”
If that’s the space you get in, and you’re in single-coverage in crunch time, and your defender is three inches shorter than you, and you’ve been scoring over him all game… There are many, many worse plays you can make.
Game Grades: Read ’em here.
D-Thrill: Williams didn’t just make the game-deciding play, he produced the game-deciding game. Williams became just the second Nets player to score more than 25 points in consecutive games this season (Joe Johnson being the other), dropping 25 points on 8-15 shooting, hitting three three-pointers, and adding eight assists.
Williams hasn’t hit the double-digit mark in assists since late January, and that streak should’ve broken tonight; there were many times when Williams was able to create an open look for Joe Johnson and other teammates that just didn’t fall.
The plain fact: Deron Williams has played at a sublime, elite level in his past two games. I’m not going to overreact and say it’ll continue for the rest of the season, but if it does, they’re primed to make a serious run at the division.
Plumlee had himself a very good first quarter, nearly matching Al Jefferson in point total, grabbing three rebounds, committing zero fouls, and ripping this rebound out of Jefferson’s hands. Not a lot of Nets scamper around the floor like he does, and it results in some good moments. His development since Kevin Garnett’s injury has been a major factor in their continued success.
The only problem: Plumlee picked up three fouls in a two-minute span in the second quarter, banishing himself to the bench with silly play. His third one was a questionable call, but if he hadn’t made the first two bad plays, it wouldn’t have mattered.
Post Game Coverage: Al Jefferson has torn through defenses of late with his methodical, intelligent post-up scoring, elite footwork, and brute strength. But the Nets kept him mostly quieted tonight, as Jefferson hit just 8 of 19 shots en route to a lackluster 18-point performance.
The Nets mixed up their strategies on Jefferson, sometimes bringing double-coverage but also keeping their big men straight up on him and forcing him to make a play. They had varied success with it — Jefferson took nine shots in the first quarter — and the Bobcats tried to run nearly every possession on offense in the first half through Jefferson on the low block.
Jefferson also ended the night with five turnovers, one off his season high.
My Thoughts At The Half: I have a bad feeling about this one. They need to put them away.
I was kind of right. The Nets let the Bobcats hang around far too long by missing free throws and allowing a surprising number of dunks inside from Charlotte’s more athletic backup frontcourt players. This is a game they should’ve won more handily. But the Bobcats executed poorly down the stretch, giving the Nets an opportunity to flourish in crunch time.
Chris Douglas-Roberts’s shoes:
I am no shoe expert, but according to Trey Kerby, these are Jordan XX8’s. They are also very 90s.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s Shot Form Is Abominable:
I love Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s game. I do. I have a soft spot for strong, quick wing defenders, who play every possession like mom is watching. But he looks like he’s shooting sideways. Seriously, I know there’s a GIF up there, but don’t click it. The first time I watched it I recoiled with such ferocity that I nearly spilled a full cup of coffee on my computer. Then you wouldn’t have had this Morning After post. And what would you have done then?
He also jumps when shooting free throws, which is weird, because he’s not a 55-year-old dad.
Shaun Livingston, Doin’ Things:
Livingston had a solid offensive game, hitting his first five shots and finishing with 17 points on 5-9 shooting. He’s got a great ability to figure out when he should pull up with his short jumper, when to reset the offense, and when someone’s diving to the rim. He acts not as a point guard or a shooting guard, but a hybrid of the two. It’s almost like a new position.
"Brooklyn's Backcourt" looks different. pic.twitter.com/SoIZzOdxpV
— devin kharpertian (@uuords) March 20, 2014
Possession Is Key: The Nets have won games in 2014 largely by forcing turnovers with their small/long hybrid lineups, but tonight they did the opposite: they won by limiting their own. Brooklyn’s offense turned the ball over only seven times, and just once in the fourth quarter. Conversely, they forced Charlotte into 15 turnovers, which led to 16 Nets points.
A Brief Note About Andrei Kirilenko’s Ability To Make Free Throws: Andrei Kirilenko has forgotten how to make free throws.
Joe Johnson had another effective night that nobody noticed, finishing with 20 points on 8-18 shooting, snaring a team-high eight rebounds, and putting up a team-high +21 in 33 minutes. But this — one of Johnson’s 3 assists — was just a perfect pass to Deron Williams for an open shot in one of the best shooting areas on the floor.
Locker Room Language: Before the game, I asked Kidd if Kirilenko was ready to go, given his status as a game-time decision with a toe injury. He said yes, then asked me if anyone else was on the injury report. I told him no. I am glad to accept my new role as Nets assistant trainer.
Across the river: The New York Knicks, fresh off a press conference introducing Phil Jackson as the team’s new president, hosted the Indiana Pacers and shocked the East’s top seed, winning at home 92-86. More shocking: James Dolan talked to the media for the third time in two days.
Next up: The Nets will practice Thursday in preparation for their next game, against the 23-46 Boston Celtics in Brooklyn on Friday. Kevin Garnett won’t play.