AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
I’ve tried to be incredibly optimistic about the New Jersey Nets this season, but I’ll readily admit that with about two minutes left in last night’s game against the Detroit Pistons, I was still smarting from the pain of last year’s 12-70 season.
Who could blame me? How did all of you honestly react when at the 1:39 point in the fourth quarter, a wide-open Richard Hamilton drilled a three-pointer from the corner putting the Pistons up 95-88, silencing the vibrant Newark crowd? It was a play that was even further soiled on the Nets end when about 20 seconds earlier, Terrence Williams played solid post defense on Tayshaun Prince, forcing him to miss a hook shot. But the Nets couldn’t corral the rebound and Rodney Stuckey recovered for Detroit.
So yes, I’ll admit it – I thought it was “game over.” The game would have been over for the 2009-10 Nets, and while I love the concept behind the “It’s All New” campaign for this team, the wounds from last season are still too fresh. Clearly, the 2010-11 team wouldn’t have sharp enough shooters or solid enough defense to make both the shots and the stops necessary to come back from 7 down with barely 90 seconds to play.
And clearly I’m an idiot. With less than 30 seconds left, Devin Harris drove to the hoop with the Nets down 1. He nearly lost the ball in the post, sharply skipped a pass out to the perimeter while falling to the floor to newly acquired marksman Anthony Morrow, who calmly stepped up and swished a three-ball, putting the Nets up 97-95. It was the decisive shot in what would end up being a 101-98 victory on opening night for the Nets – officially off to a 1-0 start after losing their first 18 games a year earlier.
Obviously, it’s a long season, and it’s hard to read too much into an opening night victory, but I don’t think I’m reaching too far in saying the Nets have already proven, 48 minutes into this season, that this ain’t going to be last year’s Nets team. In his pregame chat with the YES cameras, new head coach Avery Johnson talked about how this team was going to be able to shoot and play defense. Such fundamental things that sound so obvious, but the 2009-10 Nets were one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA and when it came time to make defensive stops, they couldn’t. Last night, coming out of a timeout after the Hamilton three, newly acquired Jordan Farmar (10 points, 2-4 from three) answered with a three-point shot of his own. He then stole the ball from Ben Gordon and on the very next Detroit possession, he played great post defense on Rodney Stuckey.
Meanwhile, getting the Nets in position to make the comeback, was a familiar double-dose of the newly-minted co-captains, Brook Lopez and Harris. Lopez (25 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks) looked like he was forcing a bit too much on the offensive end early, but came alive in the second half, scoring 14 points in the third quarter and converting a spectacular play with about 4 minutes left in the 4th, when he got the ball away from the hoop, nearly turned it over, recovered, charged to the hoop, missed the shot, stuck with it, and got the putback, cutting the Piston lead to 4.
Harris (22 points, 9 assists, 2 steals) also came alive in the third quarter, drilling some of those vintage pullback jumpers and demonstrating amazing body control on a three point play with about 7 minutes to go in the third when was hit by Austin Daye, hung in the air and made the layup. Two minutes later, Harris threaded a perfectly placed bounce pass in the post to Brook Lopez who followed with an emphatic slam dunk.
Naturally, it wasn’t all positive for the Nets – impossible to say considering they were trailing a majority of the game to a team that struggled at points as much as the Nets did last season. As good as the defense was last night, they were also sloppy at various points throughout the game. When Hamilton hit that three in the 4th, the Pistons had been to the line 30 times compared to 15 for the Nets. It wasn’t because the Pistons were necessarily more aggressive in the post either. The Nets were over the limit fairly quickly in the 4th, after a series of ticky-tack or boneheaded fouls (Terrence Williams Kris Humphries were victims of the former and latter). On the offensive end, Travis Outlaw was out of sync all night, finishing with 5 points on 1-7 from the field. And as good as Terrence Williams can (10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, an improved jump shot and a +14 for the game), he still has a penchant for making lazy or unfocused passes into the post. A low pass to Brook Lopez in the 4th quarter led to a turnover and a three-point play by Jason Maxiel. Needless to say, there’s still plenty for Avery Johnson to be working on with this team.
Some more thoughts after the jump:
- How could I get through a recap from opening night and not talk about Derrick Favors? He finished with 8 points and 10 rebounds in his NBA debut. He looked aggressive and athletic, scoring his first NBA field goal after skying for an offensive rebound and showing great touch with a baby-hook for the basket. With about 9:30 left in the second quarter, TWill connected with Favors on what should be the first of many alley-oops for the duo. He got called for one foul, on a moving screen in the second half which was a classic rookie mistake. Avery Johnson opted not to play Favors down the stretch, and while I would have liked to see him get a little more rope, I can understand the logic. The kid had a great debut – no question. Rather than watch him get called for a cheap rookie foul, or make a bad decision on the offensive end leading to a transition bucket for the Pistons, Favors was sent to the bench with a positive performance fresh in his mind.
- I like that Avery is being very experimental and open minded with his rotations in the early part of the season. All 12 players in uniform got minutes tonight. Some did more with their minutes than others. Joe Smith’s start, and Stephen Graham’s two minutes off the bench were entirely forgettable. That’s okay. Best we learn early which combinations work, rather than being forced to find out through either injury or accident.
- On that note, I thought Damion James showed some promise in his four minutes of play. For his first NBA field goal, he had the wherewithal to take advantage of a mismatch and posted up Ben Gordon. James hit a pretty fadeaway from the blocks after drawing the foul. He didn’t convert the free throw, but A for effort there.
- Johan Petro looks like he can be good enough for 10-15 minutes a game as a defensive sub.
- Focusing on some off-the-court stuff, how great was it to see Mikhail Prokhorov, from the owners box, cheering like a fan during this game? He hooted after Charlie Villanueva missed a three with 1.4 seconds left and the Pistons still able to tie the game.
- In fact, major props to the entire Prudential Center crowd last night. I’m sure, in it’s day, the Izod Center had it’s charm, but boy oh boy this organization needed a fresh start with the Rock.
- How awesome was that opening player introduction sequence? From the “Back in Black” cover, to the visuals of all of the Nets in their suits coming out of limousines. Just fantastic, fantastic video production there. I really hope the crew at njnets.com puts that up on their web site at some point (you reading this Ben?).
- Was I the only one who thought they were watching NBA Jam whenever Will Bynum was on the court with his blue sneakers?
- Granted, the Pistons were not good last year, but if they stay healthy, there is most definitely some talent on this roster. Anytime the Nets went on a run, it was hard to feel comfortable with both Gordon and Villanueva out there practically begging to hit big shots. Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace can still defend. Rip Hamilton can still bring it. They had seven players finish with double-digits in scoring. That’s nothing to sneeze at.