Well, let’s get it out of the way right now: it wasn’t pretty, and the Nets lost.
Now that that’s taken care of, let’s remind ourselves that the Nets hung with Chicago – the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference – for 45 minutes, despite a 1-12 shooting night from Deron Williams. Let’s keep in mind that Brook Lopez dropped an efficient 22 points & eight boards, and Kris Humphries had another “man, this guy is ridiculous” night with 16 rebounds and five blocks (most of the huge variety).
Let’s remember that the Nets held the Chicago Bulls – who are 49-18 and hold the best record in the East – to 40.7 shooting, including 4-20 from beyond the arc. That the top two offensive options on Chicago combined for just 40 points on 40 shots, and that the Nets defense for the most part did its job this evening – although there are certainly questions when late in a close game all five defenders are on one side of the floor and Kyle Korver is spotting up from three on the opposite wing to give the Bulls an eight-point lead with 75 seconds left.
(Was that a run-on sentence? Maybe. But if the Nets run on the Bulls as much as I make run-on sentences and hacky puns, we might be writing a different recap tonight.)
I’m not saying the Nets played a great game – they didn’t. Not even a little bit. When a team shoots 3-19 from deep (and just 1-17 after Morrow’s first two connects early in the first), when that team allows Omer Asik to grab sixteen rebounds (nine offensive) in 25 minutes, when that team gets a combined 1-21 shooting night from its point guards, well, that team is bound to lose. But for that first 45 minutes, the Nets essentially played toe-to-toe with an NBA Finals contender, and that’s with their star player missing 11 of 12 shots. They played a bad game and still had a great chance against a top-5 team in the NBA. That’s progress.
It’s almost paradoxical that a game prominently featuring two of the most innovate point guards in the league today was defined by such ugliness on both sides. Rose & Williams combined to shoot just 9-35 from the floor, and if you include backups, all the point guards for both teams combined to shoot just 10-48. Yes, that number actually gets uglier the more you look at it. Both stars shot poorly for different reasons; for Williams, it was a matter of his hand injury, while Rose struggled to get in rhythm with his jumper.
Rose also had at least four moments on offense that served as nice “oh yeah, that’s why people think he should be MVP” reminders, but he also had a pretty poor overall game. Rose is approaching Kobe Bryant territory in this sense; Kobe could go 7-25 and all I’ll remember is how pretty those seven shots looked. Similarly, Rose went 8-23 and all I remember is that ferocious dunk, those two gorgeous floaters in the lane, and that coast-to-coast layup right after Kris Humphries tied the game at 67.
As an aside, it’s interesting how two guys who are legitimate stars at their position have significantly different roles – Rose is expected to anchor Chicago’s offense, while Deron is a cog in creating everyone else’s offense. Rose is expected to carry that huge offensive burden, and when his jumper’s not falling, it can cause a lot of problems for Chicago. That was evident in this game.
All in all, the streak was fun while it lasted, but really, all good things must come to an end. I didn’t think they’d come out with a victory, but the fact that they were in the game that late – especially despite the poor shooting night – is a very good sign. I still don’t think they make the playoffs in this season, but I also think there’s little doubt that this team is a playoff contender next year – and if Billy King & Mikhail Prokhorov make do on their promise to surround Deron with at least one more superstar, there’s a serious contender in the mix here.
More thoughts after the jump.
Sundiata Gaines was continuously active on the defensive end again last night, overplaying Derrick Rose and forcing loose balls at every turn. He didn’t have a great game on the stat sheet, and really didn’t have a good one overall. But the guy is clearly playing his butt off for every contract. I’m continually impressed.
I know I’ve said it before, but Damion James is a serious sparkplug. The guy is constantly in motion on both sides of the floor, hustling after every play and occasionally showing off some shot-creation skills. He’s not an important starter on a contender, but he’s definitely an important sixth man. The Nets need to grab another wing who can create his own shot, and then James can play a sparkplug role and come off the bench to wreak havoc on second teams.
Take a trip back down last night’s memory lane with me. With the game still close in the fourth, Sasha Vujacic launches a long three, which he misses. Instead of jogging back, Sasha lunges through the lane, grabs the offensive rebound out of Chicago’s hands, gets the ball out to Deron Williams, and Deron feeds Kris Humphries for a dunk. Those type of hustle plays to create points are awesome – now he’s just got to do it for 48 minutes.
Stephen Graham had a DNP-CD. Progress!
Something I think is lost on Jordan Farmar much of the time: when a big is switched onto you off a screen, that usually means a guard is switched onto a big man somewhere else. There’s a better chance that the Nets add points to their total going inside to a big with a mismatch than Farmar launching threes over Omer Asik’s fingertips. Outside of shooting, Farmar did mostly have a good game – but again, this is one of those things where he needs to know the best play for the team every single possession.
To end on a good note, that was the end of a brutal stretch for New Jersey – the next four games are against Milwaukee, Washington, Indiana, and Cleveland. It’s not crazy to think they could (maybe should) go 4-0 in this stretch. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.