Nets 88, Celtics 79: Five and Counting



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Anyone who watched this game can honestly say that the Nets deserved to win. They made more shots, got more stops and showed they can play with some of the NBA’s elite when they put it all together. This team may not make a run to the playoffs, but there have been some very positive signs over the past five games and there is certainly reason for optimism going towards next season.

One of my concerns coming into this game was the Nets scoring the basketball, and that was certainly an issue in the first quarter. After getting out to a 14-9 lead, the team had major trouble shooting the ball and had some of the ugliest misses you will see in an NBA game. Anthony Morrow put one off the side of the backboard, missed an easy layup and everyone’s favorite Travis Outlaw completely bricked a three from the top of the key. The Nets scored their 14th point with 6:28 remaining in the first quarter on a free throw by Kris Humphries…and then did not score again in the game’s first 12 minutes. This is the exact thing I was afraid of. The Celtics went on a 14-0 run to end the quarter, the Nets were suddenly down nine after one period and it looked like it could be a long night at the Rock.

Deron Williams didn’t look too rusty as he served up an alley-oop to Hump on the Nets first half-court possession of the game, but he committed two early fouls and was forced to the bench. In the second quarter Williams starting to put his imprint on the game, first by getting to the foul line and then hitting a three that put the Nets back in the lead. Devin Harris did a good job of pushing the ball but the thing that D-Will does so well in transition is stay in control. When Williams is pushing it up court, I have total confidence that he’s going to make the right play, which wasn’t always the case with Mr. Harris. D-Will finished with 16 points, 9 assists, 6 boards and one GIGANTIC three-pointer for a very solid all-around floor game.

The one thing that saved the Nets in the first half was that Boston’s shooting was just as bad. With three minutes remaining in the first half the two teams only had a combined 59 points and the second quarter was legitimately difficult to watch. At halftime the Nets were shooting a miserable 32.5 percent and Boston was at 41.9 percent.  Now we can debate whether you want to chalk that up to good Nets defense or just the fact that the Celtics missed a TON of makable shots (I’ll take the latter) but the Nets were certainly competing and trailed 38-36 after 24 minutes of basketball.

Brook Lopez had been playing very well during the Nets winning streak and while he didn’t really assert himself much in the first half, he still had 10 points at the break. The pick-and-roll is so effective with Williams playing the point because the defense has to remain honest and play him when he drives into the lane. That leaves Brook WIDE OPEN for an 18 footer from the wing. He made a few of these jumpers last night and if I were Avery Johnson, I’d make the Nets center take 1,000 every day. Brook had just 5 rebounds last night, but his 20 points and 3 blocks were a good sign.

In the third quarter it looked like more of the same poor shooting for the Nets as Boston built a seven-point lead. But a nice 10-4 run, capped by Brook’s fadeaway over Kevin Garnett in the lane cut the Celtics lead to 50-49. The last five minutes of the quarter saw the game’s first continuous offensive execution on both ends of the floor. There was good cutting and shot-making by both teams, and after a halftime score that was in the 30s, both teams were in the 60s at the end of three. With the game tied at 61 and a minute remaining, the Nets hit two HUGE three-pointers to build a six-point lead going to the game’s final period. Of course the second of those two treys was a 27-footer by the one and only Sundiata Gaines as the horn went off to end the quarter.

Once again the Nets most consistent player last night was Kris Humphries. Hump already locked in his double-double midway through the third quarter and he just finds a way to finish around the rim. He scores in a variety of ways which makes him so difficult to defend when he’s playing like this. He can make an open 15-footer, follow up missed shots and of course throw down two-handed jams with the best of them. He even had an and-1 in the third quarter where he missed the dunk, but the ball somehow still went in. With all of these 16-point, 15-rebound performances, Kris Humphries is going to get a lot of money this offseason.

This game was certainly there to be won in the final period for the Nets. They led 67-61 to start the quarter and the Prudential Center was buzzing for once. The same trend continued to start the fourth quarter as the Nets reserves did a tremendous job extending the lead to as many as 12. The five players that changed this game in the Nets favor were Gaines, Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro and Jordan Farmar. This was the five on the court at the end of the third and early in the fourth quarter when the Nets built their lead. Some credit should go to Outlaw, who made some big shots after starting off with a bad miss earlier in the game. Maybe his best role on this team is coming off the bench, where he had 12 points tonight.

Everyone watching this game knew the Celtics would make a run and they did, mostly with their reserves and Paul Pierce on the floor. So it was on the Nets starters to finish the great job the reserves did early in the fourth quarter. After two Paul Pierce free throws, the Celtics cut the lead to two with just under four minutes remaining. The Nets looked a bit disorganized on their next offensive possession, but after a bailout foul by Rajon Rondo on a three-pointer by Morrow, the Nets were back up four (he made 2 of 3 free throws). 

The home squad was clinging (and I mean clinging) to a two point lead with just 1:30 to go when Deron hit Brook Lopez on a cut and the Nets center put in a hook shot to put the Nets up four. After a miss by Big Baby, the Nets had a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Celtics. With 40 seconds to go and 8 on the shot clock, Avery Johnson called a timeout and the Nets new franchise player buried a step-back three to put the team up 7 with 35 ticks left. A stop and a few free throws later and the Nets beat the Celtics for the first time in nine tries at home.

Some more thoughts after the jump…

-Is Ray Allen ever going to slow down? Certainly I’m biased as a UConn fan/alum but this guy is flat-out incredible. To still be able to score 19 points and move without the ball the way he does at his age is impressive.

-Good to see former Nets Nenad Krstic and Troy Murphy getting some burn. Certainly Krstic was more successful as a Net than Murphy, but it was just a case of bad timing for Murph earlier this season. The two of them could definitely help the Celtics down the stretch this season.

-It was quite refreshing to hear the chant of “Defense” at the Rock last night. While there were certainly a good deal of Celtics fans in attendance, the Nets fans were out in force as well.

The Nets have another big test on Thursday against the Bulls but for now the team and its fans should enjoy this win over the Celtics. Who knows, we may have seen a first round preview between the Nets and C’s last night. A guy can dream can’t he?