BOSTON, MA. — 75 minutes prior to tipoff at TD Garden, Nets coach Lionel Hollins was asked about the potency of the team’s lone bright spot, a Brook Lopez-Thaddeus Young frontcourt that was keeping them competitive in games despite a lack of three-point shooting.
Hollins declined to answer that question. “Well, I could comment on that from that perspective, but I’d like to comment on the fact that we’re 2-10,” he said.
“And we need to do better as a team. We need to get more people involved. We need to move the ball better. We need to finish out games. We’ve had a number of games where we’ve been close, and we haven’t had the opportunity to finish them out. Or we had the opportunity and didn’t finish it out. Those are the things I’d like to speak about. The individual stuff really doesn’t matter if you’re not winning.”
Let’s put it this way: Hollins certainly didn’t want to talk individuals after the game.
The Nets fell one more rung down the ladder Friday night, dropping to 2-11 on the season after a 120-95 blowout loss in Boston. The loss came with a bit more sting than usual for the organization, as Celtics fans punctuated the night chanting “Thank You Brooklyn!” and “Brooklyn Draft Picks!” as the clock wound down, a reminder that the Celtics own the rights to Brooklyn’s next three first-round draft picks.
“Thank you Brooklyn,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder, who finished with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting, when asked about the chant. “That’s all I can say.”
There was writing on the wall. The Celtics missed six of their first seven three-pointers but were getting clean looks from deep, and the Nets lacked the execution and communication to stem the tide once the Celtics began hitting those shots.
Hollins also admitted he thought the team’s effort, though it started strong, declined as the game progressed.
“When you go into a battle, and they start doing things to you, like the turnovers and the scoring in the paint, your effort tends to wane,” Hollins said. “I don’t think we went out there and didn’t play with effort, we played hard, that’s not the question. The question is about executing. Executing schemes on defense, executing offensive sets, and not turning the ball over.
“And making shots.”
The Celtics certainly made theirs. The Nets gave up a season-high 43 points in the second quarter, more than the Nets scored in the entire first half (42). They allowed the Celtics to shoot 18-for-21 (85.7%) from the field and 6-for-9 (66.7%) from three-point range. The Celtics hit their last nine shots of the quarter and their last six three-pointers, ending the quarter — and effectively the game — with a six-minute, 26-7 run.
Here’s an example. The Celtics ran this play on back-to-back possessions to get Isaiah Thomas, who opened the game 0-for-6 in the first quarter, got two quick looks with a simple play: a pick-and-roll to draw the defense towards the right side of the floor or middle. The first time, Shane Larkin dropped Thomas in the corner to ward off David Lee from the basket, and Lee threw a nifty (if unnecessary) behind-the-back pass to get him an open look.
The Celtics went back to the same play on the next trip down, with the same result: Smart took the ball to the basket himself, and a ball-watching Larkin played between the basket, Lee, and Thomas, which gave Thomas a second open three-pointer despite Larkin’s rush back to contest the shot.
Despite an 0-for-6 start, Thomas finished the night with 18 points and nine assists, hitting four three-pointers.
The Celtics entered the game as the league’s best team at forcing opponent turnovers; the Nets ended up giving away the ball 20 times in 103 possessions, leading to 21 points off turnovers. That was also a theme in the game’s deciding six minutes: Brook Lopez and Jarrett Jack committed nearly identical back-to-back turnovers, clean steals by Avery Bradley on a right-side drive, that led to two streaking layups for Bradley.
Those were Bradley’s two lone steals, but he finished with a game-high 21 points (10-13 FG).
“That’s probably the main thing he talked about before the game, the turnovers,” Joe Johnson added. “You can’t — this team is probably #1 in the NBA in forcing turnovers. We played right into their hand.”
Even when the eruption subsided, it was all over.
Johnson, Brooklyn’s marquee wing, finished with just three points on 1-of-5 shooting and one assist in 18 minutes, looking fatigued and distressed after the game.
“Things that coach harps on us about in practice, or just on a day-to-day basis, defensively, offensively, taking bad shots, defensively, not helping one another, and we did all those things wrong today,” Johnson said. “We paid for it.”
“It shouldn’t take this long for something to get under your skin,” he added. “We was, what, 2-10 before the game? So… I don’t know.”
The Celtics present a difficult matchup for the Nets; they have multiple big men who can step out to three-point range and draw Brook Lopez away from the rim, where he’s strongest defensively. But this wasn’t a case of that: this was a case of good old-fashioned defensive breakdowns, wide open threes given up to guards and wings, and a matador pick-and-roll defense that turned a relatively close game into a laughable blowout, one that came against a team they’ll see again at home in just two days.
When asked why the Nets couldn’t translate their intentions in practice to execution in games, Johnson simply said, “I have no idea.”