Houston Rockets 112, New Jersey Nets 87: Mercy

Luis Scola layup
Olympic Sprinter Luis Scola racing ahead of the defense again.

Box ScoreRed94The Dream Shake

When I was growing up, like most kids, I played town sports. Little League baseball, town basketball, even soccer. I played all three for much of my youth, and when you play low-level sports, there’s one constant: at least once, you’re going to get your ass kicked. At some point, you’ll run into some team that’s bigger, faster, stronger, and generally better than you, and you’ll get beat like 41-2. It happens. However, where I grew up baseball & soccer had these little tweaks to make things slightly less embarrassing: the mercy rule.

Everyone knows the mercy rule. If you were up by 12 or more runs, or 6 or more goals, they’d call the game. No need to embarrass the opponent any more, right? They’ve gotten their loss, you’ve gotten your win. Move on, there are bigger things to worry about. Basketball lacked this rule, unfortunately – the clock dictated that every second of every quarter had to be played. There were rules for this sort of thing, and the rule states you play until the final buzzer sounds. This made the “fans” in the crowd, like my parents, tune out of the riots and start doing other things. This especially stunk if my team was losing – not only is my team down 56-3 but I can’t even attract the attention of my parents.

On a related note, the Nets played last night.

Not a lot of people were at the Rock to watch this game. But why would they be? The Nets are missing their star player and boast two starters who played as backups on a championship team a year ago. The Rockets aren’t flashy or interesting, although they’re well constructed and play tough defense. They don’t have any pull, though. There’s no big Nets-Rockets rivalry. The Rockets don’t have any flashy stars. No one cares that Courtney Lee is in town. It’s the definition of a meaningless NBA regular season game.

Meaningless or not, it still stung to watch. Before it got ugly, the Nets were actually ahead at one point. It was 19-17 in the middle of the first quarter, and the Nets looked like a real team. Anthony Morrow was hitting shots, Kris Humphries was snaring boards, Brook Lopez… well, Brook wasn’t playing well, he’d get there in the second quarter. But, naturally, any idea that the Nets would hang around with an even semi-interested team was a folly. After a 14-0 Rockets run and a couple more buckets, the Nets were in a 13-point hole at the end of the first. Kyle Lowry had 14 points, including three threes, and three assists in that quarter. Without a Lopez block on a fast break, it would have been 16.

Once the first quarter ended, I might as well have turned off the television set. I knew what was going to happen. The Nets were going to make a couple of shots here and there, maybe even get the lead under ten points (they never did). But this was an undermanned team, facing a 13-point deficit with 36 minutes remaining against a team that was at least at semi-full strength. I could not fathom a single outcome in which the star-struck Nets would win this game. Bad teams playing better teams don’t come back from deficits, even with deficits occurring so early in the game. It was the definition of hopeless. It was mercy-rule basketball.

Sure, the Nets gave it a good run. They started running through Brook Lopez every play on offense, finding good results. The guy had 18 efficient points in the first half, and even though Chuck Hayes was giving him some trouble Lopez found advantages down low and basically just shot over him. But Lopez made eight field goals in that first half, and the rest of the Nets combined to make just 11.

(The Nets also attempted just 5 free throws in the first half. All by Brook. He made just two.)

Sure, Jordan Farmar knocked down a few threes. Sure, Brandan Wright didn’t look awful again. But there’s nothing to take from this game other than “wow, without Deron Williams, the Nets don’t stand a chance.”The laundry list of things they did wrong could fill a webspace. Leaving guys like Jordan Hill under the basket for open dunks. Not running back in transition. Terrible, terrible, terrible perimeter defense. Making silly turnovers. Missing midrange jumpers that they shouldn’t be taking anyway. Seriously, I wonder if anyone ever taught Brook that a 7-footer can get an 18-footer at any point in the shot clock. Considering how rarely he passes them up, the likely answer is “no.” There are minute things to parse – Johan Petro took a bunch of bad shots again, Travis Outlaw had another mistake-full game, Kris Humphries & Anthony Morrow struggled to produce, and Ben Uzoh looked good – but it’s the same old story, just packaged with a different team on the label.

Truthfully, by the end of this game I was my parents – tuning out as I watched my favorite team crash & burn, reminding myself there are more important things in life to feel better. The Nets were down 21, and the Heat-Cavaliers were in the middle of a brawl that was easily the story of the night. As an analyst, I felt like a cheater, as a fan, I felt justified.

Man, I hope Deron’s available tonight.