For me, this doesn’t happen often. I like to think of games as entire stretches, rather than singular moments. But there are exceptions, and this is one of them. In the Nets-Clippers game, there was one possession that really defined the Nets in a positive way, a possession that never would have happened last season.
With fourteen seconds left in the first half & right out of a timeout, the Nets held a 52-44 lead and the ball. The possession began with the entire offense spread and Ben Uzoh – making his NBA debut – holding the ball at the top. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Great. The Nets are going to run the ‘let’s watch the PG try a fancy move and shoot an awful shot to end the quarter like every other bad team does’ offense now.” That’s exactly what it looked like, and that’s exactly what the Clippers must have thought, too.
But I was wrong. The Clippers were, too. & they paid their complacency.
All of a sudden, the Nets began to run in motion. Kris Humphries faked a pick & cut directly to the hoop, drawing Travis Outlaw’s defender. Uzoh began the slash that so many point guards attempt poor shots out of. As this was happening, Jordan Farmar played a little Princeton offense, cutting backdoor behind Al-Farouq Aminu. As this happened, Derrick Favors ran towards the rim, drawing his defender in as well. Farmar received a backdoor pass from Uzoh, quickly faked as if he was going to shoot, and passed out to a wide open Travis Outlaw in the corner. Outlaw knocked down the 3 to give the Nets an 11-point lead.
The tastiest part of all? This harmonious, synchronized play was rolled out just as the Clippers announcers were discussing how it was impossible for a new team, so early in the season, to gel; to be in “perfect harmony” and “perfect synchronicity.” The phrase “delicious irony” just doesn’t do it justice.
It’s the small things that separate this team from last year. Effective, drawn-up plays out of timeouts to end a half. Plays where all five guys matter. An offensive identity. A coach that preaches defense and can get his star point guard on his star track. That star point guard laying a ferocious hit to an opposing player. (I’m not condoning violence – far from it – but that aggressiveness makes a difference.) Having competent forwards at both positions. Having solid backups who define their game by what the team needs.
Let’s be bold. Some games, the Nets are just supposed to win. I know this sounds weird, since the Nets weren’t expected to win anything last season, but these are the games where the bells of “It’s All New” ring and ring and ring. When a team isn’t playing the Orlando Magic or Miami Heat, they tend to look much better than expected. Outside of those 4 games, the Nets are now 4-2. While the competition hasn’t been stellar, these are games that the Nets should win, and down the stretch they’ve been able to execute. Truth be told, in our earlier games this season, I merely hoped for victories; but for the first time in a long while, I actually expected the Nets to win this game outright.
And sure enough, they did.
There were enough obstacles in the way, sure. With a 38-27 lead, Devin Harris clotheslined Blake Griffin on a fast break, leaving Griffin temporarily motionless on the floor. Harris was called for a flagrant-2 and instantly ejected, leaving the Nets without their star point guard for the remainder of the game. The Clippers fought to keep it close, getting the game to within three midway through the fourth quarter. But that didn’t deter this New Jersey Nets team (emphasis on “New”), who fought off the tough Clipper rallies and maintained the lead for the remainder of the game.
What makes this game so appealing was its lack of a top contributor. Almost everyone did something to help the Nets win. Before his ejection, Harris looked like he was priming for another all-star game, with 8 points and 7 assists in just 14 minutes of play. Brook Lopez hit midrange jumper after midrange jumper with ease, and just as I thought he was taking too many, destroyed Jarron Collins in the post on consecutive possessions. Travis Outlaw was blistering hot (see more after the jump), helping the Nets jump out to the halftime lead by scoring eighteen points in the first two quarters. Kris Humphries had another double-double with 13 points & 12 rebounds, and played highly effective defense on last year’s #1 draft pick Blake Griffin. Jordan Farmar may have been the star, though; filling in for the ejected Devin Harris, Farmar ran the offense with the savvy of a seasoned veteran, finishing the game with 15 points, 12 assists, and two steals.
There are still issues. Outside of Humphries, no player on the Nets had more than five rebounds. The Nets still committed 12 turnovers and 28 fouls on the night. But the good from tonight is just too good to ignore – the 60% field goal shooting, 95% free throw shooting, the 32 assists on 43 field goals, the eight blocked shots (without getting blocked once), things like that. Things that winning teams are supposed to do, they did. Last night, that’s what set them apart from the Clippers. Let’s hope they keep setting themselves apart from here on out.
More thoughts after the jump.
Make no mistake: the Nets outplayed the Clippers at the power forward spot last night. Blake Griffin shot 5-8 from the field for 11 points, but also had five fouls, three turnovers, zero blocks, and only three rebounds. No other pure power forward on Los Angeles was even close to being effective. Humphries & Favors, on the other hand, combined for 19 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks on 8-10 shooting. In fact, the only position you could say the Nets were outplayed at was shooting guard, and even then Eric Gordon got over half of his points at the free throw line and was blocked six times in a 6-20 shooting night. His thirty points were not efficient by any means.
That being said, Troy Murphy was the only man in a Nets uniform who did not play last night. I have to assume it’s just Avery giving him some more rest, and when Kris Humphries is that effective, I can’t blame him.
Ben Uzoh made his NBA debut last night, and although he wasn’t spectacular had one nice play diving into the stands to save a loose ball. He threw it off Eric Gordon to keep the possession in New Jersey’s direction. It was a great (albeit small) effort by a kid trying to fight to stay in the NBA.
Brook Lopez was so good from midrange last night I can’t even complain as much as I’d like to. The numbers tell it all: When a player shoots 10-16 from the field, there’s a good chance he’s doing something right. That being said, I’m still concerned about this trend of Lopez to move further and further away from the basket. Save maybe four or five plays in the lane all game, Lopez relegated himself to Rip Hamilton status. That’s not what you want from a guy his size. He did have three blocks – all of them, I believe, on Eric Gordon – so that was certainly helpful, but he finished the game with as many blocks as he did rebounds. Three rebounds in 34 minutes for a guy who’s 7’2″? The numbers just don’t add up.
The Morrow/Outlaw Balance continues. Outlaw has a great game, Morrow has an average one. Morrow has a great game, Outlaw looks out of it. Imagine those two actually playing well at the same time. Heck, the Nets might actually beat someone of consequence if it ever happens. Morrow scored a quick five points in the final minute to salvage his statline, but he was a complete non-factor during the game. Outlaw was nowhere to be found in the waning seconds, but scored 18 huge ones in the first half.
Along that same line, Outlaw continues his random red-hot start to the season. After last night’s game he’s now 21-37 from beyond the arc (56.7%), but has gone back and forth between being very effective and completely ineffective. He’s averaging 12.6 points per game this season, but that doesn’t explain his season at all; he has five games with 17 or more points and five games with six points or less. Nothing else. This was the first time he’d had consecutive “17 and above” games, so hopefully that’s a good sign for the rest of the season.
The main reason this game wasn’t even more of a blowout: the Nets allowed seventeen offensive rebounds and the Clippers outshot them at the free throw line two-to-one (38-19). This was not a particularly good defensive showing by New Jersey, but when the offense is executed this well, a team can pass by with a sloppy effort.
Let’s end with some high notes, literally. The Nets had a season high tonight in points (110), field goal percentage (59.7%), effective field goal percentage (63.9%), assists (32), point differential (+14), free throws made (18), free throw percentage (94.7%), and assuredly some other figures I haven’t written here. Safe to say it was quite the evening for New Jersey’s offense. I hope it’s not the last.