Whether or not you agree with how quickly Avery Johnson got the axe, whether you think it was warranted or fair or not, whether you think this was an easy setup for a victory against the hapless Bobcats, the Nets played more effective basketball than they have this entire month last night. The Nets have given up massive double-digit leads all month. They barely beat the Raptors and Pistons. They haven’t had a true blowout victory in December. No NBA team — not even the Bobcats — is a guarantee for that.
They did, and despite the team’s insistence that nothing had changed, something had.
It’s only one game, and it’s only one game against one of the worst teams in the NBA, a team that had dropped 16 straight. A wild overreaction to one game is foolhardy, particularly one the Nets performed to expectation, dominating from opening tip to final buzzer, leading by as much as 29 and never relinquishing double digits in the second half.
So, in the spirit of being a fan, allow me to wildly overreact to last night’s proceeding.
Each member of the Nets — from Deron Williams to Brook Lopez to P.J. Carlesimo and back — reiterated that Brooklyn didn’t alter its offensive schemes, didn’t tinker with its rotations, just kind of went out and did what they’d generally been doing. And they may believe that. It may be good for them to believe that. But in the first few possessions, it was clear that something had changed, something was different about this squad. Folks will talk about energy and mindset and other hard-to-grab metaphoric concepts that add up to “aw, this team just PUT IT TOGETHA,” and those are all true.
But it was more than the inexplicably explicable; it was a specific offensive direction, both drastically divergent from their past strategies and oddly successful. The Nets opened the game with one of their standard motion sets — Deron Williams passed to Joe Johnson on the wing, cut down towards the basket off a Gerald Wallace screen in the high post, set a screen on Brook Lopez’s man in the post, then caught the ball again at the top of the key. From here, the play diverged from its usual options: a quick pick-and-roll with Wallace on the right side drew the defense towards the basket, Williams dumped the ball to Wallace, and Wallace deftly threw a pass to Keith Bogans in the corner for a wide-open three. Brooklyn ran the same set on the second possession of the game, and it ended with a good, intentional look for Williams at the basket that missed, only to be tipped in by Lopez.
No matter what the team may argue, the Nets made a decidedly more concerted effort to attack the basket last night. Prior to last night’s game, only 43% of the team’s two-point attempts had come from within five feet of the basket. Against the Bobcats, 33 of their 49 two-point attempts came in that area — that’s 67% of their shots. The more close shots you get, the easier shots you get, the more fouls you draw, the more you win games. That’s not a difference the Nets can explain away.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez played perhaps their best games of the season, by playing distinctly unlike their previous iterations — Williams attacked the basket with more power than all season and hit open jumpers(!!!!), and Lopez didn’t attempt one bank shot all game, staying exclusively within five feet and attacking at the rim. When Lopez was out of position, he’d pass the ball around the perimeter; despite ending the game with just two assists, Carlesimo said that Lopez passed the ball more effectively than he’d seen in two years. He was right.
Standard sets aside, the Nets’ biggest offensive success came in those little dump-down plays and created cuts to the basket, particularly for Brook Lopez. The Nets tried to create on those type of cut plays 14 times last night, above their season average, and scored on 10 of them. Gerald Wallace & Deron Williams created for Lopez by driving to the basket and taking defensive attention, and even Lopez got in on the fun, hitting the cutting MarShon Brooks for a layup with some nice two-man game action.
One game is not the season. Teams often get a post-coaching change bump, for whatever reason, but the success will come in its sustainability. The Nets don’t have much time to rest, as they’ll face the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight, but do have another opportunity for a blowout victory; Cleveland will be without star center Anderson Varejao, who diced Brooklyn to the tune of 35 points and 18 rebounds in their last meeting on November 13th. Incidentally, that game was the last time Lopez, Johnson, and Williams all scored over 20 points, and each shot at least 50% from the field. With Varejao out, the Nets have a distinct advantage with Lopez, who had little issues shredding Bismack Biyombo and Brendan Haywood last night. If they can find him near the basket again, early and often, this game could turn into a similarly quick laugher.