Without Brook Lopez, the Brooklyn Nets were barely thwarted at the buzzer by the Milwaukee Bucks. With Jeremy Lin and Lopez in tow, the Nets were destroyed versus the Chicago Bulls. And, then, with Lin forced out at halftime on Wednesday by a strained hamstring, the Nets held on against the Detroit Pistons.
Well, then, what would happen without Lin for an entire game?
In Lin’s steed, the Nets would start Brooklyn-born Isaiah Whitehead at point guard, a raw-but-athletic prospect from Seton Hall, and his reward? Kemba Walker. The two guards made their jump to the NBA after incredible Big East Tournament Championship runs — Whitehead’s in March and Walker’s in 2011 — could the rookie live up to his biggest game to date?
Through one quarter — he did well! Walker was held to just 4 points by Whitehead and that defense allowed the Nets to race out to a 21-10 lead. Lopez picked up right where he left off against the Pistons, stepping with ease past Spencer Hawes and Cody Zeller. Elsewhere, Trevor Booker did Trevor Booker things (6 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played with some well-deserved confidence.
Yet, with all those aforementioned names then off the court, Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum went to work, scoring all 23 of the Hornets’ points — 12 and 11, respectively — and good for a 23-23 tie after one quarter.
Along with Whitehead, the Nets need to look towards the services of Sean Kilpatrick at point guard as well — and let’s just say the early indications weren’t great. After a couple miscommunications with Luis Scola, the enematic shooter was firing blanks. Surprisingly, Kenny Atkinson went with both Whitehead and Kilpatrick later in the second quarter, which relieved the latter of ball-handling duties.
He promptly scored two straight bucks.
Is #PointKilpatrick already over?
The second half brought a tight, competitive game as Walker continued to relentlessly attack Whitehead, Kilpatrick, and Hollis-Jefferson. Zeller, who was much improved on his difficult foray against Lopez earlier, anchored a tougher, stronger Hornets’ defense.
The Hornets countered by doubling Lopez every time he got a touch near the hoop and the Nets had no answer. Atkinson quickly pulled the starters and the Hornets jumped to a 69-63 lead, only quelled by a Bojan Bogdanovic three-pointer and the constant penetration of Kilpatrick.
Back with the bench unit, it was Kilpatrick trying to single-handedly keep the Nets alive with countless trips to the free throw line. And after a mini-run fueled by Scola and Bogdanovic, the Nets were down just 73-70 after three quarters.
And, hey, guess who? The fourth quarter is Trevor Booker time, baby! In what’s becoming clockwork, Booker has been the player making all the right decisions for the Nets when they need a bucket badly. Following a clutch Lopez three-pointer a few moments later — the Nets were within reach. But as buckets from Walker and Williams nearly polished things off for Charlotte, the Nets kept battling until the very end.
Ultimately, it was just not going to happen tonight for the Nets, who admirably competed — shoutout to Hamilton, Scola, and Kilpatrick in the early fourth — but the right players made the right shots at the right time for Charlotte.
Fans will likely be disappointed with the outcome, but there’s a timeline at play here — did you expect them to show this much promise already?
18 PTS, 7-17 FG, 2-6 3PT, 3 REB, 2 AST, 3 TOV
Brook Lopez, who smoldered on Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons, picked up right where he left off. Other than a poor three-point attempt, Lopez started (again) with a perfect 4-4 from the floor.
When this man is on a mission, there is no better sight.
Hawes and Zeller were unbelievably hopeless and the Nets looked like real killers with him on the floor.
But in the second half — in part due to sitting nearly the entire third quarter — Lopez went quiet.
It wasn’t his fault entirely, but you’d want to get a bit more from your former All-Star.
14 PTS, 4-17 FG, 2-9 3PT, 4 REB, 1 AST, 2 TOV
It’s some strange irrational confidence thing, but I don’t think Bogdanovic has ever taken a shot I thought he’d miss. In this ball movement-frenzied offense, Bogdanovic has settled into a fantastic fit role as a spot-up shooter.
He missed more than he usually does and if he hits a few more, the Nets might’ve won this one comfortably. Alas — smooth, silky, and very important to the Nets?
8 PTS, 4-9 FG, 2 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 3 TOV
To be honest, this wasn’t a disaster — no, not at all.
Isaiah Whitehead, making his first-ever career start, played solid defense on Walker in the opening frame. In fact, he exhibited some of that new-found confidence Lin thought he’d come around on.
Make no mistake, he had his… rougher moments, but you continue to see these glimpses talent, proving why the Nets didn’t feel compelled to keep around Yogi Ferrell or Jorge Gutierrez this fall.
From running the fastbreak to his bullish defense, Whitehead should develop — the fans just need to find some more patience for a rookie on a non-playoff bound team.
12 PTS, 5-9 FG, 13 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLK, 1 TOV
Trevor Booker has been the easiest grade to write this year — see, take a look at this:
Booker was [awesome/impactful/thrilling] and his [rebounding/blocking/effort] was contagious. When Booker was on the court, the Nets looked up to the task, but bled points without him in the paint.
Tonight he fearlessly tried to swat away a would-be Hawes poster and he blocked a three-pointer as well. After two clutch, important buckets for the Nets in the late fourth, Booker continues to the man of the big play.
It was no chase-down, game-saving block, but Booker is clearly one of the Nets’ most important players.
11 PTS, 4-5 FG, 8 REB, 6 AST, 4 STL, 0 TOV
Give these cats some patience and they may just pay you back in spades.
Has everybody pumped their breaks on the runaway Hollis-Jefferson cliff dive?
Great, time to move on.