Look down the Nets schedule and you’ll see a series of teams with quick backcourts. It’s no coincidence: with the NBA getting speedier and more athletic, teams have placed a premium on guards that can make smart decisions off of pick-and-rolls and break down defenses to create 4-on-3 and 2-on-1 situations.
The Nets struggle to contain these kind of players: their quickest player isn’t big enough, their smartest defender isn’t athletic enough, their tallest defender isn’t nimble enough. And whenever Damian Lillard stopped, C.J. McCollum picked right up, whether it was firing three-pointers over Shane Larkin, cutting behind Joe Johnson, or splitting Brook Lopez’s pick-and-roll coverages. In today’s NBA, speed — and playmaking — tend to trump size. And the Trail Blazers did just that.
For about 41.5 minutes, the Nets and Trail Blazers played a fun, tight game contrasting these two styles. The Nets’ bench — which had struggled badly to contain the Blazers’ guard penetration — even held court in the first 4:30 of the fourth quarter. But in a crucial two-minute stretch, the Trail Blazers put up seven quick points, holding Brooklyn’s bench to zero. By the time the starters returned, they faced a 100-93 hole, which proved just too much to climb out of.
(Sorry I have nothing to add about Nickelodeon night. I’d attempt to connect this game to some nostalgic Nickelodeon show, but the truth is I didn’t grow up with cable, so the night provided little value for me, and it’d feel inauthentic to try to make some connection I don’t really know anything about. If it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I’d have more thoughts.)
25 PTS, 9-17 FG, 7 REB
Maybe every night should be “nostalgic Brook Lopez” night. Lopez didn’t just dominate on the Jumbotron, where he expertly answered questions about Nickelodeon minutiae (until clearly throwing the last question so he could get slimed), but also on the court, abusing every post defender the Trail Blazers threw at him en route to 18 first-half points. He continued his success in back-to-the-basket situations in the second half.
But Lopez is not known for his dominant fourth quarters — just the opposite — and when he returned, he struggled to add to his total with the Nets facing a late deficit.
15 PTS, 3-6 3PT, 4 AST, 3 REB
I think it’s safe to say Joe Johnson is back to being Joe Johnson. That doesn’t mean Joe Johnson is a primary option on a good team, or that he’s leading the Nets to greatness any time soon. But the past few months have been an odd deviation for Joe Johnson, who is normally constant like algebra. At least he’s back to solving some basic equations.
15 PTS, 9 REB, 9 AST
Be honest: you had no idea he was anywhere near a triple-double until either Chris Carrino mentioned it or you saw the stat sheet. This was the quietest near-triple-double in NBA history. This was the library of near-triple-doubles. If this near-triple-double was a sound, it would be a Barclays Center crowd in a blowout loss.
(He’s been good.)
RIDE THE BARGS MID-RANGE HORSE UNTIL IT KILLS YOU OR YOU MAKE IT HOME!
With the Nets bench heavily outplayed heading into the fourth quarter, Tony Brown made the decision to start the final frame with five bench players, including Andrea J. Bargnani (the J stands for Jumpers) at center. Bargnani promptly took every conceivable mid-range shot he could take, and made enough to keep the Nets close until that aforementioned crucial two-minute stretch.
Robinson. Bargnani. Early fourth-quarter heroics. This is why we watch.
Probably his best energetic moments of the season came in that fourth-quarter stretch: Robinson put back a few second-chance points to stem the tide of Trail Blazers points, and him hitting the glass helped extend a few crucial possessions. If he plays like that every game, it’ll be key to his development.
If the starting point guard position is Sloan’s to lose, he’s not losing it any time soon.
Another quiet night from a player the Nets thought would be louder.