Bill Kostroun / AP
It wasn’t pretty — in fact, it was nothing more than putrid for much of the second half — but at the end of the night, the New Jersey Nets had won again. Brook Lopez led the Nets (2-0) with 29 points, and Francisco Garcia paced the Sacramento Kings with 18 off the bench, as the Nets ultimately won the game 106-100.
If there’s one thing that’s clear already about this Nets team, it’s that the players don’t give up. Last year, falling behind by any more than five points was essentially a concession, but this year, Avery Johnson seems to have instilled some resiliency in his new team.
The game started off well for the Nets, who were actually incredibly fun to watch for the first time in a long time. Lopez was hitting off-balance heaves, Travis Outlaw was hitting his perimeter looks, and Devin Harris was playing the distributor role well for a team that really needed it. The Nets were connecting on lob passes, going hard after rebounds and, most importantly, hitting all their free throws. All that pristine execution resulted in a seemingly unsurmountable 18-point lead.
Then again, these are the Nets were talking about, and the lead was all but insurmountable. There was a palpable shift of momentum in the second quarter, as the Kings (1-1) started hitting shots and the Nets got incredibly sloppy with the basketball. At the end of the night, the Nets had, very regrettably, 26 turnovers. Still, with the Nets shooting over 60 percent in the first half, they entered the break with an 8-point cushion.
But, in typical Nets fashion, the third quarter was an absolute massacre. Sacramento outscored New Jersey 24-15 in the period, and the lead had evaporated into a 1-point deficit. The turnovers were running rampant, Garcia got hot from the perimeter, and the Nets couldn’t hit a shot to save their lives. Needless to say, I’d gone from exhibiting unrestrained giddiness to clawing my hair out with every offensive foul and three-second call.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, it only got worse. The Kings continued to capitalize on the Nets’ turnovers, and they put together an 8-point lead. The ghosts of last year’s disappointment had returned, and I’d begun to resign myself to a loss. But in spite of my disposition, the Nets struck back forcefully. With 3:13 left to play and the Kings up 97-89, Harris found Lopez for a challenging hook shot in the lane, which sparked a 13-0 run for the Nets, highlighted by a Harris three-pointer closely followed by his trademark stepback jumper, to establish a 102-97 lead with 18 seconds to play. Though Garcia hit a quick three-pointer to keep the outcome in doubt, Jordan Farmar and Travis Outlaw promptly iced the game by making four free throws.
More analysis after the jump:
Yes, the Nets are 2-0. Yes, the Nets look infinitely better than last year. Yes, the Nets are projecting qualities characteristic of a playoff team. What’s also true?
The two teams the Nets beat were the Detroit and Sacramento, both of whom are expected to dwell in the cellar for the entire season. And to be honest, with the sentiment of more lofty expectations, some of the themes in these two games are a little scary.
First of all, the Nets have to cut down on the turnovers. If you regularly have games with 18:26 assist-to-turnover ratios, you aren’t going to win many games. While the refs were a bit whistle happy on illegal screens and other offensive fouls, the Nets were also plagued by traveling violations, carries, intercepted passes, three-second violations, and plenty more. Avery Johnson needs to figure out a way to convince these guys to protect the basketball. Better teams are going to turn 26 turnovers into 40 points. If they play like that against Miami on Sunday, they’re going to run the Nets out of the building.
Second, a major theme once more is third-quarter play. Over the last several years, the Nets have largely played amateur basketball coming out of the halftime break. They don’t have the same energy and commitment, and as such, a first-half lead is rarely safe. In the first half of this game, the Nets were immaculate on defense — like, Boston Celtics-esque. The Kings were shooting barely over 20 percent. In the third quarter, though, they stopped getting after the ball, contesting shots, and denying penetration. The result was a series of easy shots, which subsequently allowed the Kings to heat up from outside, which nearly cost the Nets the game. The third-quarter lulls need to stop soon if they want to compete. They can’t afford to squander any 18-point leads over the course of the season.
Some other thoughts:
- Even though Derrick Favors was in foul trouble, he had his second solid NBA game. His 10 points (including a nice spot-up jumper) and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes show that he can be relied upon off the bench to collect the boards and garbage points around the rim without much risk.
- DeMarcus Cousins showed some promise, but Lopez’s experience helped him to draw many fouls on the youngster simply by swinging his arms upward to initiate contact. He’ll need to learn to keep his arms straight up and contest without fouling against good NBA centers.
- The team’s defense of Tyreke Evans was admirable, as the Nets made him take 19 shots to get his 18 points. If they can bear down and stop other teams’ primary scoring options, it’s going to go a long way to helping them win games.
- Devin Harris has definitely been working on his jump shot since last year, and it showed. He was lights out away from the basket, including on two in crunch time. If he can pair his relentless driving skills with that kind of touch on his jumper, he’s going to be a special player.
- Furthermore, he logged his first double-double of the year with 21 points and 10 assists. It was interesting to see him step back from the isolations and one-on-one penetration early in the game and create offense for his teammates. At the end of the game, when his team needed him, he stepped up. I guess he’s channeling his inner Jason Kidd.
- Anthony Morrow and Terrence Williams had off nights. Morrow shot 1-4 from the field for 4 points, and T-Will had just 3 points and 5 turnovers. It’s alright for them not to score if Lopez and Harris are handling the load, but Williams needs to take care of the ball. He can’t burn the candle at both ends and hope to help his team.
- Kris Humphries and Joe Smith were both positive factors at power foward. Smith started the game and drew two big offensive fouls in the early minutes to get Kings players into foul trouble. Hump made both of his field-goal attempts for 5 points and raked in 8 rebounds in 23 minutes. These are the small contributions that these guys can make to help the team without big minutes.