Perhaps reenergized by the return of Jeremy Lin, there were a few fleeting moments in which the Brooklyn Nets might’ve been up to the task of going toe-to-toe against the Western Conference powerhouse. After a couple gritty buckets from Bojan Bogdanovic, the Houston Rockets suddenly realized that the MVP-worthy James Harden was being guarded without help by the likes Isaiah Whitehead, Sean Kilpatrick, and Joe Harris.
The results were just about as unflattering as you’d expect, Harden’s first quarter line: 8 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, and a steal. Yikes.
And yet, somehow, the Nets were right there, losing just 29-24 — is the magic of Lin alive and well?
Surprise! When Lin left the game, the Nets were immediately throttled to the tune of a 12-3 run. Maybe we just forgot how much more competent the Nets are with Lin on the court — but the stark comparison was like day and night.
Other than that, the Nets struggled to match three-pointers against the league-leading Rockets (4-11 vs. 7-22 in the first half) and Brook Lopez couldn’t get going against the beefy Clint Capela. Ryan Anderson, the former Net, continued to get free look after free look from deep and his silky stroke kept the Rockets up by as much as 14.
But by some sheer will, the Nets were just down 53-43 at halftime — I don’t really know how or why either, but the basketball gods are particularly fickle these days.
The second half brought a better Nets effort, but they still failed to really cut into the deficit past 9 or 10. Whether it was a botched Trevor Booker charge or the nosy Patrick Beverley hurting the Nets on the offensive glass, their lack of energy pushed their road hopes to the brink. If not for the suddenly cosmic Kilpatrick and Lin on offense, this might’ve been much, much worse.
As if they were stuck in a Samuel Beckett play, the Nets were futile in their attempts to get the score below 7 points — each time they neared their noble pursuit a prompt (and silly) turnover doomed them to double-digits again. But, those final five minutes — Lin’s minutes restriction — proved to be key, leading the Nets to a swift late-quarter run, including a rainbow three-pointer with 8 seconds left, to make it 90-85 after three quarters.
Huh? OK, then.
While the Nets attempted to tread water without Lin and Lopez, the Rockets continued to fire away from three with reckless abandon — nailing 15 of 39 through the first four minutes of the fourth quarter.
With exactly 5 minutes remaining, Lin checked in down 108-102 — would the miracle man write the next chapter of his journey? Lin promptly picked off a pass and went coast-to-coast for a free bucket, officially announcing the return of those #PeskyNets. A long Joe Harris two-pointer would be wiped away after Harden flailed his way to two free throws, but the valiant Nets effort would continue.
Booker bowled his way through Anderson for a crucial And-1 and two back-to-back buckets from Lopez capped off an insane, frantic 7-0 run from the Nets. And, all of a sudden, the Nets were up 116-110 — mostly in part to a trio of heroics, but against Harden, there are no easy outs. After buckets from Gordon and Harden, Harris tied the game at 118-118.
Crucial split free throws from Nene and Ariza left the door open for the Nets with 8 seconds remaining, down 120-118. What could they come up with?
Take a deep breath… and…
Back to the drawing board.
17 PTS, 6-8 FG, 3 REB, 7 TOV
Sean Kilpatrick didn’t start cooking until the last few minutes of the halftime, but his points were a much-needed lift for the offensively-anemic Nets.
However, man, he was just torched by James Harden all night. Granted, the Nets gave him little-to-no help, but it was too early, too often that he was caught in no man’s land. Tough assignment without help, yes, but some of it seemed like a lack of focus.
7 turnovers, no bueno.
26 PTS, 9-17 FG, 1 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLK, 4 TOV
It seems like Brook Lopez either scores 12 or 2 points in the first quarter and that dictates the rest of his night. Surprisingly, Lopez reversed the pattern for a dominant second half — scoring in every which way you’d like.
Unbelievable fourth quarter from him as well — everything you’d want from the big-time leader.
However, posed on Twitter:
@AndrewDBailey could Brook Looez be first guy in NBA history with 30 pts 0 rebounds?
— Swift (@SwiftHitter) December 13, 2016
A late rebound knocked out the question — but what if?
10 PTS, 4-8 FG, 13 REB, 4 STL, 3 TOV
Statistically, Trevor Booker had one of the Nets’ best nights, but, boy, did he rarely make a blip on the radar at times. Not a poor game by any means, but it wasn’t quite the eye-popping, hustle-fueled binge we’ve come to expect from Booker.
He did, however, score the massive And-1 that would put the Nets up briefly at 114-113 — so kudos there.
7 PTS, 2-5 FG, 2 REB
I can’t wait to watch this dude in 2019.
10 PTS, 4-8 FG, 7 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 1 TOV
Good to have you back, Jeremy, even if just on extended minutes.
Whether it’s taking a speeding Patrick Beverley to the chest or orchestrating the offense, he’s such a crucial piece. Limited to the five minutes of each quarter to start, Lin made his minutes in the final frame count massively, inspiring the Nets’ best run of the game.
Picking off passes, hitting rainbow threes, and motivating his teammates to push to new heights — all in a night’s work.
+17 on the night to boot.
It’s so damn clear that he’s a catalyst for this team and the Nets responded to his presence in spades. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll make the Nets very interesting the rest of the way.
I’m not crying, you are.