Kevin Garnett was his usual eloquent self speaking with reporters after Friday night’s loss, the first of his career to his former team.
“We created this monster, and we have to deal with it,” Garnett said after the team’s embarrassing 111-81 loss at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that gave him a video tribute and a standing ovation honoring his twelve years of service in Minneapolis from 1995 to 2007.
“What you gonna do, you gonna quit? Quitting is not an option. … None of us got this far by quitting.”
But there were moments last night where that didn’t seem to be the case.
In the third quarter, with the Brooklyn Nets far behind but not closed out, Garnett briefly engaged Timberwolves forward Kevin Love in a shoving match, taking exception to Love’s grabbing and throwing an elbow into Love’s chest. The two jawed at each other after the elbow for a few moments, before Garnett was hit with both a technical and a flagrant foul.
Maybe Garnett thought that a little fire would help his waning team, that some physicality with one of the league’s MVP candidates would remind them that they entered the season trying to send a message to the league with hard fouls on the league’s stars. They were supposed to play a take-no-prisoners style, hit first, ask questions later, intimidate, berate, and then score over you while shutting you down.
He tried. He can barely move or make shots at an NBA level these days, but he can always throw his weight around, both physically and emotionally, trying to create a spark.
But the Nets, already down sixteen at that point, stayed the course of their sinking ship, allowing the Minnesota Timberwolves to score the next sixteen points in under four minutes and double their lead to 75-43, never looking back.
After twelve lifeless games, an embarrassment of riches has revealed itself as simply an embarrassment.
This is the rubble the Brooklyn Nets have been reduced to, a smoldering ruin that stands a stark contrast to the championship-caliber roster that lived only in our imaginations for brief moments between media day photos and summertime press conferences. The dream that this team would take the NBA by storm is officially dead; even in the incredibly unlikely scenario that they return to the court fully healthy in a week and stay that way for the whole season, they’ve got a major uphill climb ahead of them — and not just in the wins column, where they stand at 3-9, just a half-game ahead of the Eastern Conference cellar.
There’s the issue of the physical, where early on it’s the youngest Nets starters that are the most physically punished. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have both caught the injury bug, each spraining an ankle on a freak accident against the Phoenix Suns on November 15th. Williams re-injured the ankle on November 20th, after injuring his right ankle in offseason workouts. Even if both return fully healthy, a dicey scenario, the Nets still have an aging roster chock-full of players with lingering injuries and the looming presence of Mother Nature limiting the roster’s continuity.
There’s the issue of the interior, which has crumbled on both ends of the floor without starting center Brook Lopez manning the paint. Kevin Garnett was expected to revolutionize Brooklyn’s defense, but the Nets have seen minimal impact from their power forward on that end of the floor. Younger, more athletic big men have exposed Garnett’s slowing foot speed and waning strength; lanky athletes like Bismack Biyombo, versatile shooters like LaMarcus Aldridge, and MVP candidates like Kevin Love alike have given Garnett fits.
There’s the issue of the exterior, where guards and forwards alike trade possessions like candy, with seemingly little direction or cohesion. The Nets barely snapped the ball around, finishing with a season-low seven assists to 20 — yes, 20 — turnovers, many of them unforced or just plain silly. Without Williams running the show, there’s little control, and when he is available, he hasn’t been the Williams they thought they signed.
There’s the defense, a mish-mash of different principles Jason Terry called a “gumbo” in training camp that has amounted to little more than dog food. The Nets allowed 26 assists, seventeen offensive rebounds, and eleven three-pointers to the Timberwolves, resulting in nearly 20 more field goal attempts. After the loss, the Nets now rank 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, better than only the 1-13 Utah Jazz.
The Nets took a 2-0 lead on the first possession of the game, on a designed mid-range jumper — the least efficient shot in the game, and a shot the Nets elect to take more often than shots in the restricted area — for Garnett in his return home. On the next possession, the Nets gave up a corner three-pointer — the most efficient shot in the game, and a shot the Nets convert at the fourth-lowest rate in the NBA — to Timberwolves guard Corey Brewer. The Nets never led again.
“We’ve got to get used to being down,” Jason Kidd said after the game. “I don’t know how many times we’ve had the lead.”
Does that sound like a team that entered the season with championship expectations?