None of the Boston Celtics starters played more than 18 minutes, but the New Jersey Nets still couldn’t find a way to beat the C’s, as they fell 96-92 at The Rock last night. There were bright spots and rough patches in the Nets third preseason game and there is plenty for Avery Johnson to focus upon. But it comes down to the fact that the team couldn’t make the plays in the last minute when the game was on the line, and it cost them a victory.
The game couldn’t have started out better for New Jersey. A nice offensive set led to a Travis Outlaw jumper from the top of the key just 15 seconds into it. Outlaw only took 9 shots in 27 minutes, and while he made just 3 of them, 2 were three-pointers. Shooting the ball is going to be a key for him now that Avery Johnson wants Travis to play the small forward position, instead of the 4. With the 5 starters in the game the Nets offense looked pretty crisp, aside from a turnover just 2 minutes in when Devin Harris threw the ball out of bounds on a clear miscommunication between him and Anthony Morrow. The Nets were featuring Brook Lopez in the early going and I liked what I saw from him on the offensive end. He had 13 points in the 1st quarter and was able to capitalize from the free throw line, making 13 out of 15 in the game. Brook was clearly a bit agitated that his car got banged up in a fender bender before the game, and he showed his aggression in the 1st quarter. It was a great sign for Nets fans that Lopez wasn’t scared at all to go at Shaq but I didn’t like what I saw from him on the defensive end. The Big Shamrock aka The Big Diesel aka A Million other Nicknames was able to back down Lopez on a few occasions and overpower him. Now I know that there is nobody in the League that can stop Shaq once he gets going, but I would have liked to have seen a little more resistance applied by Lopez. His lack of conditioning over the summer because of mono was certainly a factor on the defensive end.
One piece of this team that I continue to love is Terrence Williams. He came off the bench in the 1st quarter and immediately had a great slashing layup to the basket and was able to draw the foul on Ray Allen. He needs to cut down on the turnovers (he had 5 last night) but a stat line of 17 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds is something that Nets fans should get used to from T-Will. After holding a 9-point lead at the end of the 1st, the Celtics were able to quickly battle back and tie the game towards the end of the second quarter. Glen Davis was a key reason Boston was able to get back into the game so quickly. The Nets didn’t seem to have an answer for him all night, as Big Baby went for 20 points on 6 of 11 shooting. One reason that Davis had such a good game was that he was matched up against Nets rookie Derrick Favors at times, which brings me to my next point…
It was unfortunately another rough night for the rook out of Georgia Tech. After struggling on Tuesday against the Sixers, Favors went through some more growing pains against the Celtics. On defense he had trouble holding down KG and Big Baby and while his quickness allowed him to easily get to the basket on offense, he was unable to finish. Fouls also continues to be a major issue for Favors. He fouled out in just 23 minutes and needs to work harder on learning how to play defense in the NBA without fouling. Look, it’s only the guy’s third preseason game and he has shown flashes that he will be a stud in this league, but it won’t necessarily be an easy process. The best thing for Favors and his development will be for Troy Murphy to come back healthy and allow Favors to develop while not being burdened with starting for this team.
This game turned in the second and third quarters and it involved both the Nets offense and defense. In the second, it was on the defensive end where the team struggled as they allowed a ridiculous 37 points to the Celtics. Unfortunately I had visions of last season while watching this, as Boston was seemingly getting anything they wanted. In the third quarter it was the Nets offense that went to sleep. Unlike in the first quarter, the offense seemed very stagnant and they went nearly 3 minutes without scoring, while the Celtics built their lead up to 11. One defensive play in the third quarter specifically got me annoyed. Paul Pierce is a tremendous player and made a great spin move to get to the rim, but NOBODY on the Nets had the gumption to step in and take a charge, or at the very least make Pierce earn it from the line. Not what I like to see.
Let’s fast forward to the final minute, which is what this game came down to. The Nets were down 90-82 but after a typical T-Will And-1 and a big three by newcomer Jordan Farmar, the game was tied. These were the type of games the Nets couldn’t win last season, and even though none of the Celtics starters were playing and Williams and Morrow were the only possible Nets starters in the game, I wanted to see them show some toughness and get the W. But largely because of the aforementioned Morrow, that didn’t happen. I don’t want to blame the loss on one player, but the Nets new shooting guard had a rough last minute to say the least. First he completely lost Marquis Daniels on the baseline to give up the eventual game-winning three pointer. So after the teams trade free throws, the Nets are down 3 with 15 seconds left. They run an inbounds play to get Morrow an open three but unlike Sean Elliot in the 1999 Playoffs, Morrow can’t keep his heel in bounds and he steps on the sideline. Just an inexcusable turnover when you’re down 3 in the final seconds. Nate Robinson hit a free throw and the Nets fall by 4.
To sum up last night’s action, I’ll put some of the key Nets players in a GOOD, BAD or IRRELEVANT category. The GOOD were clearly Lopez, Williams, Farmar and Joe Smith (who was great and showed a ton of energy that was pleasantly surprising). The BAD goes to Derrick Favors and Anthony Morrow and the IRRELEVANT will be Devin Harris (though I don’t blame him at all since he’s recovering from an injury, and he actually did have a nice, typical D-Harris drive in the 1st quarter), Travis Outlaw (needs to take more shots) and Johan Petro (Can this guy please block a shot?). All in all it was a pretty exciting game that just under 8,500 saw in Newark. The Nets weren’t able to test their skills against the Celts starters for an extended period of time (as Avery Johnson had hoped) but there were still some positives to be taken out of the game and certainly plenty of teaching points. It’s home for the Sixers Saturday afternoon before flying across the world for a couple games in China.