The Brooklyn Nets lost their fourth game of the season to the no-longer-winless Milwaukee Bucks 103-96, in a close, exciting matchup that was decided in the game’s final possessions. But Nets center Brook Lopez, who wasn’t on the court for the majority of crunch time due to foul trouble, wishes it could’ve gone differently.
“I don’t know really what they saw on that fifth (foul),” Lopez lamented. “I don’t know if you guys can tell me. I felt I was pushed into the screen, but I don’t know.
“I don’t want to get fined, but you’re the media, you must have some opinion.”
Well, since you asked…
Lopez’s beef was that he felt he was “pushed into the screen,” a down-screen set by Michael Carter-Williams, by Greg Monroe. Carter-Williams, noticeably shorter and slighter than Lopez, went flying, which only exacerbated the play.
If you watch closely, you can see Lopez has a legitimate argument: it looks like Greg Monroe sends him slightly in Carter Williams’s direction. You can even see Lopez mouth “he pushed me,” but the disappointment on his face is clear, since he knew it was futile to argue.
“I didn’t understand the call,” Lopez added. “It was a tough situation, late in the game. It had been decently physical all night. I don’t know. I don’t want to say too much.”
The foul doomed Lopez to the bench at a crucial juncture. It put the team’s best scorer, who had amassed a team-high 18 points (6-11 FG, 6-7 FT) and nine rebounds in just under 34 minutes, on the bench with 4:44 left.
Lopez could have conceivably come in earlier in the fourth quarter, but he chose not to second-guess Hollins’s decision. “It’s a tough call,” Lopez said. “I thought the team was doing pretty well. We were making plays. The unit was doing well together. But it’s tough.”
But he stuck on the bench until there were 31.7 ticks on the clock. The Nets were down 99-96 at that point, and had kept it close enough that the crowd sounded much louder than the listed 12,576, perhaps the lowest in the history of Barclays Center.
The Nets ran a similar play back-to-back in crunch-time: a sideline out-of-bounds set that looked to get Joe Johnson curling towards the top of the key. Neither play involved Lopez in a primary capacity, and Milwaukee’s aggressive, long defenders shut off any chance that Johnson would get a look.
“J-Kidd wasn’t letting me touch the ball,” Johnson said, perhaps alluding to his former coach Jason Kidd’s now-well-known barb at Johnson a year earlier, when Kidd told Johnson before a crunch-time play “We know! It’s coming to you!”
He sure wasn’t — not with Carter-Williams guarding Bargnani on the inbound, which allowed for an easy switch when Bargnani then set a screen hoping to free Johnson up. With the team’s primary option gone and no second option immediately available, Jarrett Jack opted to drive into the lane for a tough shot.
“I knew the clock was against us, and at that particular point, the play that we’d drawn up was pretty busted at that point,” Jack said. “So (I was) just trying to make a play and trying to make something happen.”
But Jack, who finished the game with 15 points (5-11 FG, 4-5 FT), four assists, and five turnovers, took the shot with ample time left on the shot clock — 17 seconds — and under 24 seconds left on the game clock, which meant the Nets were forced into desperation foul mode once the Bucks secured the rebound. It pushed a three-point game into two-possession territory without the time for two possessions, and a second Jarrett Jack attack — blocked at the rim by Monroe — sealed the loss.
“He’s out there playing, he has to make decisions,” Hollins said of Jack’s final shots. “I can’t make all the decisions for guys. He made one. If he makes the layup it’s a good play, but he didn’t make the layup and they got the ball. I can’t criticize every decision these guys make. Plus, it’s a game of improv. You have to have the freedom to make decisions, and he made that decision and he got to the basket. He just didn’t finish.”
The loss doomed what was otherwise a solid effort by the Nets, in which they set season-highs in three-pointers made and had two quarters with 30-plus points. The third quarter in particular featured surprising ball movement and playmaking, and the Nets got a big lift from Shane Larkin off the bench, who made all five of his shots and got a key steal & layup in the fourth quarter that gave the Nets their final lead.
“Just sharing the ball, making extra passes, playing with a lot of energy and defensively getting stops,” Larkin said. “All those things kind of tied into the offense being better tonight.”
But the Nets (0-4) are now one of seven NBA teams without a win. They’ll face the Atlanta Hawks (3-1) and similarly winless Los Angeles Lakers (0-3) this week before taking on Kidd’s Bucks once again. When asked about the team’s attitude, Jack kept it simple.
“Get a win,” he said. “That’s it. Period, point-blank.”