The last two games for Brooklyn have brought the highest of highs and the lowest of lows — a thunderous comeback against the Miami Heat was quickly undone by a classic Nets collapse versus the Orlando Magic a few days later — but which team would they be in Boston?
Right away, the Nets looked determined to start the New Year off on the right foot with some fluid ball movement, fastbreak opportunities, and Jarrett Jack sporting a new headband. While Jack still struggled to contain Thomas defensively, a renewed, more focused effort on facilitating the offense lead to 7 first quarter assists. Although an early 11-2 lead eventually shrunk to a more realistic 56-55 advantage at the half, it was tough not to be satisfied with their effort.
However, and rather incredibly, it wasn’t just Jack’s new prowess fueling the Nets’ success, it was Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson’s combined fire emoji stat-line of 25 points on 10-18 that made winning this game an obtainable possibility. Off the bench, Willie Reed slotted nicely into the role once occupied Andrea Bargnani and followed it up with some of his best minutes in the NBA yet.
In the early third, Lopez was nearly decapitated by Jared Sullinger under the hoop and Jack did not take kindly, spurring a small scrum and inspiring the Nets to some of their best basketball yet — a crucial 9-0. However, just a few minutes later, Jack went down in a heap after planting oddly and would be done for the day with a right knee sprain.
The Nets, kings of the fourth quarter crumble, made it as hard as humanly possible without Jack running the show. Shane Larkin, his replacement, noticeably struggled and the double-digit lead shrunk and shrunk until it was no longer.
And for as much as it felt like this would be just another chapter in the Nets’ miserable fourth quarter diary, it just simply wasn’t. Which is not to say there’s no analysis to be had here, but make no mistake, they limped their way to the finish line. Given their obligation to attempt to give the game away in another spectacular display of shortcomings, back-to-back turnovers cut an eight-point lead to just three with 36 seconds.
Following the timeout, the Nets moved the ball around despite the Celtics’ full-court press, eventually finding Lopez under the hoop for a jam and his 29th and 30th points of the game. A Jae Crowder missed three looked like the nail in coffin before another treacherous Larkin turnover left the door open for a few more fleeting seconds. Following a prompt turnover by Young out of another timeout, Jonas Jerebko missed a great look at tying the game near the buzzer.
Make no mistake, the Nets were 95% of the way towards blowing this one epically, the Celtics just ran out of time in the end. Their unfinished business in Boston was ultimately finished, but losing Jack to that brutal injury potentially has huge implications for the foreseeable future.
30 PTS, 11-24 FG%, 13 RBS, 2 ASTS, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 4 TOs
Brook Lopez could not be contained by the smaller Jared Sullinger in the first quarter and forced the Celtics and head coach Brad Stevens to re-evaluate their options earlier than usual. In the midst of the Nets’ torrid November blowout, Lopez shot just 9 times in 26 minutes — an absolute recipe for disaster.
In the first half alone, Lopez was 6-10, spinning and posting his way to a wonderful 16 points with a tough degree of difficulty as well.
The Disney Shake https://t.co/IOl2pmXYrU
— devin kharpertian (@uuords) January 2, 2016
On the other side of the break, the Celtics tried David Lee on Lopez which was not their best idea of 2016 thus far. Put-backs, fadeaways, and shimmys galore, Lopez was near his best this afternoon.
Late in the fourth, the crowd bellowed BALLE-RINA! towards Lopez after drawing a foul. Today, that ballerina had a game high 30-points, so keep on dancing, Brook!
2 PTS, 0-5 FG%, 9 ASTS, 1 BLK, 1 TO
New year, new Nets?
New headband, new Jack?
In November, Isaiah Thomas put up 18 points, 9 assists, and 4 3-ptrs to Jarrett Jack’s 11, 5, and 7 TOs — so sticking with the Boston point guard was always going to be an early goal. And if Jack were able to absorb the Celtics’ smothering defense, the Nets would automatically be in a better spot than the last time they played on the parquet.
In the first quarter alone, that improvement was palpable as Jack sliced the Celtics’ defense apart with 7 assists and only two FGAs. The third brought some more missed shots, but the most important moment of the night didn’t have anything to do with basketball.
After Jared Sullinger nearly choke slammed Lopez under the hoop, it was Jack immediately in the fray to defend his teammate. From there, the Nets went on a crucial 9-0 run and it helped galvanize them when they needed it the most.
Unfortunately his night was cut short after planting poorly on a fastbreak late in the third. After staying on the floor for a few minutes, he managed to hop on one foot to the locker room.
Get well soon, Jarrett.
20 PTS, 9-19 FG%, 2 ASTS, 3 TOs
After a disastrous month of December, Joe Johnson looked determined to flip the script in 2016 by going 4-5 in his first quarter minutes. Although he leveled out the rest of the way , it’s a closer return to the Johnson Brooklyn has relied on for the last three years.
These days, it can take three-fourths of a game before Johnson hits double-digits, so for him to nearly do it in the first half is a well-welcomed return, even if it’s just temporary. His man defense leaves a ton to be desired but his 20 points were the most he’s scored since December 8th against Houston, so we’ll take it without much argument here.
16 PTS, 7-16 FG%, 10 RBS, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1 TO
It wasn’t Thaddeus Young’s most efficient afternoon from the floor, but the Nets desperately need him to hit that 15.8 average each and every game — no matter how many shots he needs to get there. That alone, while also notching his 17th double-double with 10 rebounds, is enough to give him a relatively decent grade to start off the New Year.
"You see that type of save in tennis!" WOW https://t.co/Abi5s6gWrB
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) January 2, 2016
(Thanks for the vine, Anthony!)
6 PTS, 3-6 FG%, 7 RBS
Here are numbers for you to kick off 2016:
3 first half minutes for Andrea Bargnani; Willie Reed, 10. Now, who knows if these are permanent changes to Lionel Hollins’ rotation, but the early results are good. The Nets have long searched for somebody to slot next to Lopez while team hero Thaddeus Young rests and, up until now, Bargnani just simply wasn’t cutting it. It may be too much of a simplification, but Reed brings solid rebounding while also giving the Nets’ more quality looks on offense without the itchy trigger finger of Bargnani firing away.
ANTICIPATION OUT THE ROOF
Yesterday revealed that Chris McCullough returned to full contact practice, which is some much-needed good news for the bleak franchise. Today, the rookie responded by sprinting out of the tunnel and onto the parquet floor during warmups.
So it’s safe to say that McCullough is ready to be back and start his NBA — don’t worry, the feeling is mutual, we can’t wait either, Chris!