Tonight, the Brooklyn Nets embarked on their yearly circus trip out West — a journey that will put them in a 20-day, 9-game ringer. And, if the number of Nets that knew their All-Star center’s cat’s name is any indication (0-3), then the trip might finally serve as the death knell to a season that was already on life support.
In Portland, fueled by the efforts of All-Star snub Damian Lillard, the crafty C.J. McCollum, and, of course, former Net Mason Plumlee, the Trailblazers have surged and become a league-wide darkhorse for the second half of the season. Plumlee, who was swapped for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in last June’s draft, has fared well in the Pacific Northwest while the Nets’ rookie has been shelved since November.
Although Brook Lopez was more than game to face his former teammate (16 points, 8-12 in the first half), the rest of the plan was executed at a less than stellar rate. The aforementioned Lillard + McCollum duo is straining for even the most impressive defenses, but against the likes of Donald Sloan, Wayne Ellington, and Bojan Bogdanovic, the most politically correct word would be feasted upon.
Left flat-footed and flustered, the Nets were destroyed by the guards to the tune of 33 first half points on 11-19 shooting. Even worse, the tag team combined for 5 three-pointers over the first two quarters while the Nets missed all 3 they attempted.
Sloan and Al-Farouq Aminu traded barbs to start the third, but while the Nets looked more crisp and succinct, they couldn’t cut into the deficit with their poor defense (rotations, pick and roll, allowed constant penetration) continuing in spades. And, I wonder if this sounds like a cop-out, but you can’t expect to beat anybody when they hit 7 more three-point shots than you.
Is that jaded?
The statistics don’t lie — from January 13th to February 20th, the Nets shot 41.6% from three, good for second best in the NBA. And, if you’ve been paying attention, this directly correlates with an uptick in their on-going efforts towards looking like a professional basketball team playing in 2016. Over the Charlotte snoozer, the Nets shot just 5-22 from deep en route to losing handedly; and, tonight, and 3-12 effort is just never good enough.
And yet, there they were, almost inexplicably losing by just 3 points after three quarters. A 19-point lead evaporated, almost entirely because Portland got a little too complacent and comfortable with the advantage. Even funnier, you probably just read 360 words about how shockingly bad the Nets were tonight — but the real joke is that with 5:30 left in the final frame, they actually had a 3 point lead.
Yeah, some teams just like to watch the world burn.
Make no mistake; this was a special night for Lopez as he exhibited some rarely-seen fire and killer mentality — single-handedly keeping Brooklyn’s head above water. Each time down court, Lopez went powered his way into high percentage situations or, when they played off, he shoveled in basket after basket. Ultimately, Lopez, who played 40 minutes, was too exhausted to go punch-for-punch with Lillard, but he gave it the old Brooklyn try.
Back-to-back three-pointers from McCollum and Lillard (have you caught onto the theme yet?) put the Nets down 6 with 1:10 left and that was just about that. A couple of Lillard free-throws and a terrible Sloan airball later, their fate was sealed. Valiant effort on the comeback and high marks go to Brook, but, with 7 less three-pointers than Portland, this was always going to end the same way.
14 PTS, 6-10 FG, 5 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL
Speaking of nightmares, I’m sure Donald Sloan was bummed to see Damian Lillard across from him again.
Just after taking over for Jarrett Jack, one of Sloan’s first assignments was the Trailblazers’ guard and, 33 points and 10 rebounds later, it was a cruel welcome to the Nets’ starting lineup.
While McCollum did most of the damage tonight, he struggled to stick with Lillard off the dribble and couldn’t chip in with the same offensive stats (15, 9, 9) from the prior Brooklyn date. Although his efforts helped the Nets claw back into the game, it was partially his fault that they were there in the first place.
4 PTS, 2-7 FG, 3 REB
It’s generally pretty obvious when Wayne Ellington has something to bring to the table. Tonight, there wasn’t even a table for Ellington.
A shooter that can’t shoot (2-7) is bad enough, but his poor showing against McCollum should’ve gotten him the hook from Tony Brown far earlier.
19 PTS, 7-13 FG, 8 REB, 4 AST, 4 TOV
Put ’em in that time machine, Old Joe!
Against young and athletic teams, the game can slip away from Joe Johnson in a flash. When that happens, typically, he doesn’t do much but hang out on the perimeter on both ends and take in the sights.
Tonight was not one of those games.
We got another efficent and effortless all-around contribution from the veteran as Johnson broke the three-pointerless streak in the third, secured the third most rebounds on the team, and hit a few tough shots when they needed it the most.
We’ll take it.
7 PTS, 3-6 FG, 1 REB, 3 STL, 2 TOV
If this version of Markel is here to stay, the Nets could do far worse than re-signing the RFA come July.
36 PTS, 16-24 FG, 10 REB, 1 AST, 4 STL, 1 BLK, 3 TOV
Brook Lopez sure shows his love for Mason Plumlee in strange ways.
Lopez was having none of the sentimentalities, likely giving his former teammate the same practice nightmares he suffered for two seasons in Brooklyn. Tip-ins, posts-ups, and more — sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In fact, he was incredible throughout the second half, aggressively rebounding, taking quick and confident shots, and slowly chipping away at the Portland lead. Whether it was Plumlee or Meyers Leonard, Portland had no answer for Lopez and, believe it or not, it was the reason why the Nets erased a 19-point deficit in the blink of an eye.
HES AUDITIONING FOR THE WOOKIE ROLE https://t.co/9qzNJG56ag
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) February 24, 2016
(Thanks for the Vine, Anthony!)