After a dominating victory against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference closed out 2014, it only feels right that the Nets keep their train rolling by beating one of the worst teams in the East, climbing to .500 with a victory that was nearly derailed by a wild fourth-quarter Magic run.
The Nets didn’t kick off this game as planned, taking over two minutes to even get a shot off, throwing away a ton of easy passes, and even trailing after one period. That was almost where this one ended: the Nets poured on the offense all game, getting big contributions from their bench-now-starters and starters-now-bench, leading by as much as 26 points.
But The Magic took advantage of a collapsing Nets offense, cutting a 95-71 lead with eight minutes left down to as little as the final score by pouring it on from the perimeter and in transition, and were a few seconds away from stealing away this victory.
Until that wild Magic run, this was as close to sublime on both ends of the floor as you can get. But once it started, it was mere seconds from becoming arguably the worst collapse the Nets have seen in Brooklyn. For 40 minutes, they dominated like the Spurs; for eight, they stunk like the 76ers. Split the difference.
6 PTS, 3-8 FG, 6 REB, 4 AST, 6 TOV
His dominating mid-range presence came crashing down to earth early in the second half with two ugly airballs, but when he’s finding Mason Plumlee for dunks that easily, a couple of rough misses become that much more acceptable.
Made a few bonehead plays down the stretch, notably chasing down a ball flying out of bounds and stepping out to lose possession.
It’s clear as day at this point that he and Deron Williams should spend as little time on the floor together as possible.
7 PTS, 3-5 FG, 1-2 3P, 5 AST, 4 REB
Basketball IQ, in gif form:
But he missed two free throws down the stretch, was a part of Brooklyn’s crumbling fourth-quarter perimeter defense, and though he tried to call a time-out as he was falling out of bounds, that’s not something you’re allowed to do in the NBA.
14 PTS, 5-13 FG, 1-7 3PT, 4 REB, 4 AST, 4 TOV
Struggled to hit the easy ones, missing all of his open three-pointers in the first half, but got a few high(ish)-percentage isolations in the third quarter to give himself a nice overall night.
Wasn’t a great night for him defensively, but he did hit two free throws to push the Nets lead to five with 22 seconds left, in a quarter where the Nets had missed five of six free throws up until that point.
If he misses those free throws, this game goes to overtime, and I don’t know a soul that thinks the Nets win this game if it lasts five more minutes.
9 PTS, 3-4 FG, 1-1 3P, 6 REB, 2 STL
Spend a few minutes watching him scream on defense if you want to appreciate one of the greats still knowing how to get it done.
Oh, who am I kidding. KEVIN GARNETT HIT A THREE-POINTER!
18 PTS, 9-10 FG, 9 REB, 2 AST, 2 BLK, 5 TOV
HE’S A MENACE, HE’S A MACHINE, HE’S A PLUMLEE.
After a first quarter in which the Nets couldn’t get into the restricted area with a VIP pass, Plumlee punctuated the second with three dunks, one off of beautiful ball movement in transition and another on a pretty alley-oop.
Kept the pressure on in the third quarter, with more dunks and one beautiful and-one reverse layup that nullified the negative effect of a Sergey Karasev airball. Incredible overall game for the suddenly-indispensable sophomore.
(What are turnovers and free throws?)
16 PTS, 5-10 FG, 3-3 3PT, 7 AST, 1 TOV
His best game since returning to the bench. Williams did a little bit of everything in this one: distributing, attacking, hitting all of his three-pointers, defending, causing havoc.
Williams didn’t exactly tear back his starting spot from Jack’s clutches tonight, but he might’ve loosened the grip just a smidge.
16 PTS, 7-8 FG, 8 REB, 3 BLK
Don’t be surprised that he didn’t start following his dominating 29-point performance against Chicago to close 2014. The last time these two teams played, Nikola Vucevic poured on 27 points & 11 rebounds in three quarters, and the Nets only escaped with a victory once they substituted Garnett for Lopez in the fourth quarter.
But Lopez made up for that poor performance tonight. Lopez looked quicker and more aggressive, pursuing rebounds on both ends of the floor, and even playing some solid defense at the rim.
Plumlee has played far too well to assume that Lopez will return to the starting lineup anytime soon. But if anything, Lopez’s slow return to effectiveness means the Nets have a dangerous combination of centers to throw out there at any time.