With their first potential win of the season on the horizon, the Brooklyn Nets drew up a play that was doomed from the start.
More specifically, it was the spot. Or the speed, depending who you ask.
“That’s what it was, a five-second call,” Hollins said. “We didn’t get it in in time. In those situations, I was taught as a player that as soon as the referee hands the ball, you go. You can’t clap the ball, you can’t do anything. You’ve just got to go. Whether it was four, five (seconds), whatever, I don’t know, it doesn’t matter. We didn’t get the ball inbounds in time.”
The missed inbounds play wasn’t the reason the Nets lost the game. The team already trailed the then-winless Los Angeles Lakers 98-95 with just over 24 seconds left. They’d only shot 2-for-16 from three-point range on the night, dropping their percentage on long-range shots to a dismal 22.7 percent, worst in the NBA. But it all but ended their shot at a comeback.
The set, other than the speed and the spot, worked to perfection. A wheel-around Brook Lopez screen on Kobe Bryant, who’s fighting through screens like a moth these days, freed up Joe Johnson in the left corner for the wide-open three that could have tied the game.
“That’s how it was designed,” Johnson said. “Thad(deus Young) said there was somebody in the way. I don’t really know, honestly. But we just didn’t get the ball in.”
But Young, keying the inbound, couldn’t get the ball to Johnson, blaming the spot. The referees spotted Young at the hash mark near halfcourt, which made a pass from Young to Johnson about a 40-foot lob. Young expected to be at the closer hash mark, around the three-point and free throw line.
“When we actually initially drew the play up, it was supposed to be a little deeper. Kind of towards — more angled with the free throw line, as opposed to being at halfcourt,” Young said. “But they spotted the ball a different place than we wanted it.”
With Young spotted at the half-court line, Lakers guard Nick Young stood between the Nets’ Young & Johnson near the baseline, which also discouraged the pass. “I felt if I lobbed the pass over, it wasn’t going to get the shot,” the Nets’ Young said.
The screen, which relied on Lopez looping around Johnson for misdirection, took about three seconds off the clock.
With Johnson out of the play, the next option was to get the ball in to Brook Lopez. The plan was to get Lopez the ball at the top of the key and, as Young said, “get him a quick hook shot in the middle of the lane” before fouling again.
Lopez was open around the free throw line, with only Bryant to defend him. He had hardly touched the ball in the fourth quarter, taking only two shots (and four free throw attempts) in the final 12 minutes after taking 17 in the first 36. “I don’t think that’s the issue,” Lopez said, when asked if he wasn’t getting the ball enough. “I took entirely too many shots in the first half. We’re at our best absolutely when the ball’s moving, it’s popping, and everyone’s getting looks, moving and cutting. So I don’t think there’s a relationship there.”
But the play never got that far. The Nets were called for a five-second violation as Young tossed it in to Lopez, and Bryant, in front of his cheering fans, sealed the game at the free throw line, and the Nets eventually lost 104-98.
The team, for the most part, had no qualms or mistaken notions about the largely pro-Lakers crowd.
“We understand what it is,” Jarrett Jack said. “It’s a guy who’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
Hollins was a bit more elucidative. “We’ve been here before. We played the Jewish team (Maccabi Tel-Aviv) last year, they were rooting for them. We played the Turkish team (Fenerbahce Ulker), they were rooting for them. It happens. When Cleveland comes to town, Miami comes to town, they root for them. … I’ve been in other situations where the same thing happened. I was in Memphis, I was in Phoenix, every time we played a game in Phoenix, the other team’s color would fill up the stadium. When I was in Memphis, in the beginning, every team we played, they were wearing jerseys of the other team. You have to win your fans over by going out and playing hard, playing well, and being successful.”
Friday night was perhaps Brooklyn’s best shot at a victory in the month of November. Eight of their next ten games come on the road, and seven of those ten games come against teams that were in the playoffs last season. An eighth comes against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that has Kevin Durant back. A win against the Lakers Friday night would’ve been a weight off the team, now they roll into this tough stretch at 0-6, one of three winless NBA teams.
“It’s tough,” Johnson added. “Nobody’s happy about it. But eventually, we have to snap out of it. So we’ll go to Milwaukee and see what we can do.”