The Nets seem to relish in playing difficult games this season that go down to the final possessions. Maybe after winning so many close games in the last three years, this is a rapid regression to the mean: they’ve now lost three of four consecutive games that came down to the final possessions in regulation.
The Nets didn’t lack for opportunities. Nicolas Batum, 85 percent free throw shooter, inexplicably threw a pass out-of-bounds rather than take a foul from Brook Lopez with 20 seconds left. But Lopez turned right around and was called for a moving screen call in the backcourt, giving the ball right back. A few free throws later, and that was all she wrote.
The disappointing ending distracted from the game’s competitiveness. Throughout the night, I kept comparing these last three games to the first three games of the season, when the team’s chances seemed hopeless. Even when they led against the San Antonio Spurs for that brief, wild moment, there was never a strong sense that they had a puncher’s chance of winning any of those.
These three have been different. They’ve competed, even if it’s been against shorthanded squads. Their core players have played well. It was as if each quarter had a theme. For a few, wild moments in the first, it seemed like Joe Johnson had returned to Seven-Time All-Star Joe Johnson™ mode, hitting threes with a few extra inches of lift in his legs. In the second quarter, it was Brook Lopez going toe-to-toe with Spencer Hawes inside and out. In the third, it was Thaddeus Young, who should trademark the soft floater in traffic before Antawn Jamison files a lawsuit. The fourth was a bit more of an amalgam, but came down to Jarrett Jack, with the good and bad fully on display.
But there’s only so many ways the concept “the Nets lack three-point shooting, bench production, and defense” can be re-shaped.
16 PTS, 6-13 FG, 3-7 3PT, 4 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 2 TOV
JOE THREEZUS BACK!?
All of Johnson’s recent praise has been about his solid passing, which is pretty much all you can praise about a shooting guard hitting 33 percent of his shots and 22 percent of his three-pointers. But Johnson hit three threes in the first six minutes of the game, and looked fresh and in rhythm early.
Unfortunately, those were the last threes Johnson hit on the night, and though he got a few shots going towards the basket, his last shot — a 26-foot clunker well right of the basket in crunch time — was a haunting symbol of his season thus far.
23 PTS, 8-19 FG, 7-8 FT, 5 REB, 3 AST, 2 BLK
His main matchup tonight was Al Jefferson, who’s a pretty natural comparison. The two both do the brunt of their offensive work on post-ups and short floaters. Lopez uses his length to get position and shots over defenders, Jefferson is a bit quicker on his feet and with his hands.
But it was Spencer Hawes that gave Lopez the most trouble, particularly in the second quarter: Hawes rolled quickly to the rim behind Lopez and drew him out of the paint with his long-range shooting. Lopez mitigated that by doing work in the post, getting 10 points in that second quarter.
But Lopez’s biggest moments of the night were the aforementioned moving screen — a dubious call that might’ve been influenced by Jarrett Jack moving too quickly — and a late, quick shot out of a timeout in traffic that didn’t fall.
27 PTS, 11-17 FG, 5-6 FT, 8 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL
Another excellent game from Young, who has solidified himself as the team’s best all-around contributor by doing a little of everything offensively. Match him up against a smaller player and he’ll draw him out and shoot over him, match him up against a bigger player and he’ll toss a fake one direction and lob a floater in another.
His game should age well, and in a bridge/rainbow year, he’s a bright spot — one the Nets have locked up on a very reasonable contract for the next four years.
8 PTS, 4-10 FG, 0-2 3PT, +/- -14
Bargnani’s clearly not in the game for his playmaking prowess, but one assist through 12 games in the rotation is a bit of a concern if you’re not treating the rim like Hassan Whiteside.
18 MIN, 0-1 FG
The Nets could really use a shooter right now, and whether he’s not looking for his shot or not creating enough opportunities for himself, he’s been strangely absent in the past three games.