After the Nets came crashing down against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, Brook Lopez preached that the team had not given up hope, that they would keep fighting.
Tonight, we saw that team.
Although the game got off to an incredibly sloppy start on both sides, including an absurd 14 combined first quarter turnovers, the Nets weathered the storm in the second quarter thanks to Jarrett Jack’s three-point shooting, Joe Johnson’s facilitating, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s crafty slashing. Without Jeff Teague and Kent Bazmore, the Atlanta Hawks were uncharacteristically wasteful and finished with a jaw-dropping 20 turnovers, but the Nets couldn’t take advantage in the first half.
On a night when Ian Eagle regretfully announced to viewers that Comcast would be dropping the YES Network at midnight with an empty Barclays Center backdrop behind him, it was hard not to think that the state of New York might not want the Nets either.
But there they were, hanging tight with those tough Atlanta Hawks and taking punch after punch. Joe Johnson hit some of his signature pull-up floaters in the post, Thaddeus Young was classic Thad, and the Nets pulled off some incredible magic. Following a swarming defensive stand, Dennis Schroder was forced into an off-balance shot that Young rebounded before taking off downcourt. The Hawks, perhaps surprised that Lionel Hollins did not call a timeout, struggled to get back defensively and Young went crashing to the floor with 1.4 seconds left.
Cool, calm, and collected, despite the hard fall moments before, Young stepped up to the line and nailed both free throws. After the timeout, the Hawks tossed the ball towards the post, Young poked it away, and that was that.
The Nets won.
At the end of the day, the Nets were not supposed to beat the Golden State Warriors on Saturday and they certainly aren’t supposed to compete at the level of this Hawks team that thrashed them in Game 6 last April. But after Lopez so confidently proclaimed that this was a team of fighters and believers, the Nets proved tonight that such an effort is not only contagious, but can keep overmatched teams battling through the entire forty-eight minute frame.
0-4 FG%,, 4 REB, 1 STL, 1 TO
It’s come to the point where I don’t really understand Bojan Bogdanovic’s game. When he’s aggressive and hitting his shots, Bogdanovic is a really tough man to defend — as evidenced by the Nets’ only other win of the season in Houston.
But when his first couple shots don’t fall, there’s an entirely different Bogdanovic; one that sinks out of the offense and is willing to pass up every opportunity. And, for a team like Brooklyn this year, they need Bogdanovic to slash and keep trying, even if he starts off a little cold. Particularly on a night where Kent Bazemore, Atlanta’s best defender, was missing, this will have to go down as a missed opportunity.
13 PTS, 5-14 FG%, 7 REB, 9 AST, 1 STL, 0 TO
Although Joe Johnson is getting older each day, and perhaps becoming a little less dependable as scorer in the process, the always resourceful guard is doing his best to replace Deron Williams as the offense’s facilitator. Jarrett Jack may be the point guard, but it’s Johnson that dropped six (!!!) first half assists. It’s Johnson that drags the most attention out towards him and the three-point line and, yup, you guessed it, it’s Johnson that cooly pings the ball wherever it needs to be next.
At the beginning of the year, analysts wondered if Johnson could help make up for the scoring they’d lost with Williams’ summer departure. Not many would’ve guessed that Johnson could help chip away at that deficit through intelligent passing, but the Nets are most definitely happy this nuanced version of a seven-time All-Star is here.
24 PTS, 11-21 FG%, 11 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 3 BLK, 1 TO
Hey, did you know that coming into tonight’s games, Brook Lopez was averaging 2.4 blocks per game? Did you know it ranked him 6th in the entire league and just three-tenths behind everybody’s preseason pick for Defensive Player of the Year, Anthony Davis?
For a very long time, Lopez has been praised as one of the league’s best offensive centers, but he’s also gotten his fair share of criticism about his man-to-man defense and rim-protecting abilities. Although you still might not want Lopez guarding Kevin Durant with the NBA Finals on the line, he’s already changed a handful of shot he might not have even contested last season.
Tonight, the Nets, finally, seemed to make a more concerted effort to get their big man the ball and the results were palpable. It’s not a terribly difficult strategy and the problem has an even simpler solution, so seeing the tide slowly change is a welcomed addition for everybody involved.
7 PTS, 3-5 FG%, 2 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 1 TO
On a night where almost everybody else (we see you, Shane) seemed content to drift in and out of the game during the first half, it was the rookie that tracked Kyle Korver, got his long arms involved, and brought that Tuesday energy the Barclays Center so dearly lacked. Although Rondae Hollis-Jefferson clearly has a problem leaving his feet with nowhere to go, the fact that he stole the ball and created chaos beforehand helps negate some of those growing pains.
14 PTS, 5-11 FG%, 4-6 3-PT%, 2 REB, 1 AST, 2 STL, 1 TO
Late in the third quarter, Shane Larkin hit a three and I started sweating. Then, on the next possession, he stared down Mike Muscala early in the shot clock and drained another.
With those two shots, the Nets came alive in that third quarter. With those two shots, Shane Larkin made me re-write the entire recap.
In a sloppy, sleepwalking first half, it was Larkin who tore off the bench with some much needed energy and revitalized a quickly sinking Nets team. Then, in the third, he somehow did it again.
Whether or not he’s hitting, Shane Larkin brings it each and every night.
Tonight, he was hitting.
16 PTS, 7-13 FG%, 11 REB, 5 STL, 2 TO
With five seconds left in the game, Thaddeus Young secured the team-high 11th rebound. Combine that with his 16 points and 5 steals and you could objectively make the case that Young was tonight’s Player of the Game.
However, it was one decision just after that 11th rebound that would alter the outcome of the entire game. Instead of waiting to find out if Lionel Hollins would call a timeout, Young tossed the ball to Johnson and immediately streaked up court. The Hawks didn’t get back and commit to Young until it was too late and, all of a sudden, the Nets were up by two points with just over a second to play.
That extra effort won’t show up in the box score, but it helped Brooklyn win their second game of the season and those type of contributions are invaluable.