The Nets played a great offensive game, led by as many as 16 but in the end could not score enough to beat the Knicks in a high-paced, fun game to watch at Madison Square Garden. Deron Williams seemed to show no signs of the wrist injury and he did everything except make the game-tying shot in the final seconds. While the Nets played well enough to win, like countless other games this season, they fell a few points short at the end.
Everything about this team is different with Deron Williams in the lineup. It was evident from the opening tip and it was the primary reason why the Nets scored a season-high 36 points in the first quarter. Sure, Brook Lopez was great, with 16 points on 6-7 shooting in the first, but it was all predicated off of D-Will’s creativity with the ball. He gets everyone open shots and had 5 assists in the opening stanza. The Nets had been awful in first quarters as of late, but on the heels of 58.3 percent shooting from the field, they had a 6-point lead after the first 12 minutes.
As a Nets fan and someone who can’t stand everything about the Knicks right now, I was hoping there would be a few moments last night where the Nets play would force the Knicks fans to turn into boo birds. Well we heard exactly that early in the second quarter after the Nets extended their lead to 10 on a sweet D-Will floater and nice put back from Johan Petro. Following that the Nets continued their run and after Sasha Vujacic buried a three and Farmar had a fast break and-1, they were all of a sudden up by 16.
I’ve seen a decent amount of the Knicks over the last few weeks but haven’t watched an entire game like I did last night. Let me just say this: All of their critics are 100% correct, they play no defense whatsoever and their rebounding is even worse than their defensive effort. With Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony there is no denying that New York can score, but the Nets got whatever they wanted on offense and it was just a matter of knocking shots down. And like I mentioned the Knicks defensive rebounding is so poor it’s pathetic. The Nets got countless tip-ins that weren’t even contested. If I were a Knicks fan I’d be disgusted watching this team with their lack of defensive execution every night.
The first half was a thing of beauty for the Nets. Brook led the way with 22, D-Will controlled the pace and the Nets’ Anthony (Morrow, of course) was 5-6 from the field and scored 14 points. For a team that has struggled scoring lately it was a little bit of a surprise to see the Nets score a season-high 68 POINTS in the first half, but it’s all relative when you’re playing the Knicks defense. Either way give the Nets credit because even though they got a ton of open shots and easy looks, they still needed to knock them down, which they did in the first 24 minutes. The Nets defense wasn’t great either as the Knicks scored 58 points of their own, but I was satisfied with a 10-point lead for the visitors at halftime at MSG.
As good as the Nets first half was, the Knicks were able to chop 6 points off the Nets 16 points lead in the final few minutes of the second quarter, and they continued that run early in the second half. If it wasn’t for an Anthony Morrow three the game would be tied at 68 but even still, just 2:31 into the third quarter the Knicks had cut the lead to three and it suddenly seemed like the game was sliding in their favor. In the first few possessions of the third period, the Nets clearly tried to feature Brook Lopez. While that is a fine strategy by Avery Johnson because of the first half he had, I would still rather have the offense run through Williams and use he and Brook in the pick-and-roll.
One of the biggest sequences in the game occurred about halfway through the third quarter when the Nets buried three 3-pointers on successive possessions to build the lead back up to 10. D-Will started and ended the barrage with two from near the top of the key and Morrow had the other one in between from the right wing. His shooting was outstanding all night as he finished with an impressive 30 points on 10-15 shooting. Morrow is another guy whose game is dramatically lifted with Williams in the lineup. It’s not that complicated: D-Will penetrates and causes the defense to collapse and shooters like Morrow can get more clean looks from the perimeter. That’s a clear recipe for winning basketball.
With about 4 minutes left in the third the Nets two main offensive threats, Williams and Lopez, each went out with four fouls. After two Anthony Morrow free throws pushed the lead up to 8, the next three and a half minutes became critical to make sure the Nets could maintain their lead with D-Will and Brook on the bench. But not surprisingly with the Nets two best players on the bench, Carmelo went off and continued his outstanding third quarter play. Travis Outlaw made an effort to defend him and say what you want about ‘Melo, but when he’s on a roll scoring the ball, no one in this league can stop him. He finished with 20 points in the quarter, the Nets offense looked stagnant and they held just a 92-91 lead at the end of three periods.
The first few minutes of the fourth quarter saw the game go back and forth with each team trading one-point leads. And then the dynamic duo that is Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter took over. Yes you read that right. Williams got a leak out transition layup and two half-court buckets to give the Knicks a five point lead with 6:20 to go. Lopez played a very solid game but his defensive softness was something I did not like to see. I realize he was in foul trouble in the fourth quarter but he has to be more physical with a guy that has the talent of Shelden Williams.
But after some big buckets from D-Will, the Nets fought back to tie the game at 107 and like many NBA games, this one came down to making the winning plays in the final four minutes. After some great plays by Williams and three free throws by Chauncey Billups, the game was tied at 114 with 2 minutes to go. But the Nets decided to only take jump shots, Travis Outlaw had a big traveling violation in transition and Anthony promptly buried a mid-range jumper to give the Knicks a two-point lead.
The Nets ran a nice set out of the timeout to get Brook a shot off a pick-and-roll but after he missed the shot and lost his shoe, he felt it would be more important to put his shoe back on than to play out the possession with the ball still being tipped around. So what happened? The ball got batted right towards him but since his head was down, it went off his back and went out of bounds. You literally see it all when you’re a Nets fan.
But even with all of that after Carmelo missed a wide open mid-range jumper the Nets had a chance to tie or win the game with 8 seconds left. Deron got a great look from about 16 feet but he couldn’t knock it down and the Nets lost 120-116 in what was an exciting game. In terms of the stars, Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups combined for an impressive 93 points and although the Nets got very strong games out of D-Will, Lopez and Morrow, 116 points ended up not being enough to get it done.
There were some good signs in this game to give Nets fans promise for next season but they need to start putting together more offensive and defensive efforts in the same game. So the team is on yet another four-game losing streak and will head down the Jersey Turnpike to Philly on Friday.