For about 40 minutes, the Nets looked up to the task against the Los Angeles Clippers, but, for the first time since buying him out, they really missed the contributions of Joe Johnson.
The Nets got off to a hot start, perhaps motivated by the near-tip-off news that the Clippers would introduce their new, terrifying mascot at halftime, and they leaned on Brook Lopez and Wayne Ellington hard. Ellington looked like he was trying to go toe-to-toe with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar-winning performance and carry the entire team on his back. The former Laker felt right at home in the Staples Center and shot his way to 10 points on 4-5 from the field in the first.
Elsewhere, Donald Sloan was up to his usual tricks chasing around the opposing player while also holding his own offensively. So even though Chris Paul penetrated enough to get 4 first quarter assists, Sloan fired back for 7 points of his own. However, the second quarter keys were handed over immediately to Shane Larkin, who promptly crashed the car into a ditch. While he tried to stay with Paul with less than satisfactory results, he was far more damaging on offense.
At halftime, this was simply a case of a bad team getting beaten by a good one.
Lopez, who was, by the way, the Nets’ leading assist man in the first half with 3 (ew), did what he could against the balmy Clipper defense, but it was not sustainable. Imagine that, a team that runs an actual offense through some of the league’s best point guards, shooters, and rebounders ultimately out lasted a squad that could be called “freeballin’ it” at best.
I know, I’m shocked as well.
Against all odds, the Nets took a 70-69 lead on Bojan Bogdanovic’s first three-pointer of the night and their extended 12-2 run helped them hold a narrow 2-point lead by some logic that still defies me. The universe evened itself out as Jamal Crawford nailed a third quarter-ending three-pointer, putting the Clippers up 2 and righting all karmic aura in one fell swoop.
The fourth quarter quickly brought the Nets playing with both fire and house money by gambling on the bench unit, including Sergey Karasev and Chris McCullough, for the first four minutes of action. After Karasev and McCullough just misfired on an alley-oop attempt, the Clippers showed signs of pulling away once and for all.
Crawford (26 points) and Paul (23) would ultimately put away the fading Nets, the fourth ending the same way the half did:
A good team beat a bad team — the effort was there, the execution was not. One team has Chris Paul, the other one has two NBA journeymen at point guard. One team has J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, the other had three quarters of a now potentially concussed Ellington.
It turns out, this was a never a fair battle, the Nets just stuck around way longer than they should have.
25 PTS, 9-17 FG, 10 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLK, 3 TOV
Brook Lopez is crafty, we’ve been over this –but sometimes, it pays to be as quick as possible.
Of course, this is not to say that Lopez is quicker than anybody, much less DeAndre Jordan, but he had one of the quickest trigger fingers in the Wild West tonight. It hardly seemed like Lopez held onto the ball for more than a few seconds on most possessions, using that patented push shot in order to keep the shot-blocking Jordan out of position.
Defensively, Lopez did what he could, but with Sloan’s poor showing against Paul, the center had two massive responsibilities: stop the Paul drive and/or a Jordan dunk.
10 PTS, 2-8 FG, 3 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL, 2 TOV
Your typical Donald Sloan effort — torched and tumbling on defense, slicing and hustling on offense. More often than not, it usually levels out to a wash, but the future Hall of Fame point guard treated Sloan with some brutal LA hospitality.
Still puzzled as to why he sat for the entire second quarter as Larkin couldn’t have possibly played at a faster speed. Even then, calling his defense on Paul a disaster would be mostly a compliment.
9 PTS, 4-12 FG, 11 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 2 TOV
When Thaddeus Young takes care of the ball, an angel gains its wings. Unfortunately for the Clippers, they were basically stuck praying Luc Mbah a Moute and Jeff Green could contain the power forward. This was met with middling effects, but without Blake Griffin, it was either that or Cole Aldrich. Earlier this year, this would’ve meant an absolute feast and sets on sets run for him…
And yet, the Nets didn’t go to one of their only natural match-up advantages of the night often enough. Lopez is great and has historically done well against Jordan, but you would’ve hoped to see more for Young, especially with Green on him for the entire second half.
13 PTS, 5-8 FG, 3-6 3PT
Heat checking Wayne Ellington is my favorite.
A few games ago, I mentioned that it’s easy enough to tell whether or not Ellington has it on any given night. To be fair, it’s also pretty easy to tell when he’s got it going on as well.
Sure, he didn’t get any assists or rebounds, but whatever — shooters gonna shoot, shoot, shoot. To set the tone against a dangerous Clippers team, they needed Ellington badly — he answered.
His night was cut short by a potential concussion situation after he caught an inadvertent shoulder from Jordan in the third.
The Nets sorely missed his shooting prowess.
6 PTS, 2-6 FG, 6 AST, 1 STL, 2 TOV
I wish Shane Larkin would play at 198 mph instead of 200 mph to see what happens, he might be happier with the results.
UNBRIDLED OPTIMISM + TEAM SPIRIT
Welcome to the big time, Sean! Kilpatrick, who signed a 10-day contract on Sunday, made his Nets debut in the waning moments of the half. However, in a close game against an NBA powerhouse, he wasn’t allotted much time to stretch things out.
Against the Lakers tomorrow, however, I expect it to be a much different story.
Now, about that nickname…