Thoughts On The Game: Nets 98, Blazers 96, & It Shouldn’t Have Been That Close

Kris Humphries block on LaMarcus AldridgePhoto Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP Photo

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So that’s what it looks like when the Nets close a game out!

The final minute of this game was fantastic. Devin Harris hit a huge 3 with just under a minute left, Travis Outlaw forced a Brandon Roy turnover, the Nets defense forced Andre Miller to shoot a 3 (Andre Miller does not shoot 3’s), Favors picked up a huge rebound on a LaMarcus Aldridge free throw miss, Outlaw knocked down two crucial free throws with 20 seconds left to push the game to a two-possession lead, the Nets forced another Andre Miller miss, Harris hit two free throws, Morrow hit two free throws, and just like that, the Nets win a close game, 98-96.

There were a lot of positives all around in this game. Devin Harris had another all-star game, finishing with 25 points, eight assists, and scoring efficiently. Anthony Morrow hit three threes, Kris Humphries was a defensive beast, and the Nets combined to shoot 53% from the floor, 50% from behind the arc, and make it to the line 35 times (making 83% from the charity stripe).

That being said, there’s also an awful lot to criticize on how the Nets played tonight, and even though they won this one, I’m going to make a bold statement: the Nets should have blown the Blazers completely out of the water.

It’s a matter of control. If there’s any word that really describes why this game was close at all, it’s that one. The Blazers seemed in near complete control of their play schemes throughout the game, while the Nets only intermittently understood theirs. The Nets shot very well, both from the field and the line, but it was the lack of control that turned what should have been a blowout into a close game.

Here’s what I mean by control. I’ve always thought of offensive rebounds and turnovers as perfect opposites; one preserves a possession, the other one throws a possession away. If a team can control the offensive glass, and exhibit the offensive control needed to prevent turnovers, they’re putting themselves in a good position to win every single game solely because they’re getting shots. Unfortunately, these areas are two facets of the game that the Nets have had significant trouble with. This game was no different.

Firstly, turnovers specifically continue to be a major problem for this team, on both ends: They make too many careless mistakes on offense and don’t force their opponents to make adjustments on defense. Between throwing passes out of bounds, throwing them into the hands of Portland players, and forcing the issue where there’s no offense to be found, the Nets show glimpses of ability in every game but simply do not take care of the basketball well enough to be an efficient team. Travis Outlaw is the king of this problem; he’ll take poor shots instead of swinging the ball around, and he doesn’t have the ballhandling skills to consistently take his man off the dribble.

On the other side of the ball, the Nets rarely force the issue on defense. The problem is that they’re just too busy trying to figure out where they’re supposed to be on defense – on too many occasions Portland just whipped the ball around until they found someone sleeping defensively and got an open fifteen-footer or three-pointer.

Or, to put this in numerical terms, the Blazers finished the game with 12 turnovers. The Nets had 11 turnovers in each half.

Offensive rebounds are the other form of control that the Nets didn’t have any of. This, again, is an issue on both sides of the floor – not only did they neglect to secure offensive rebounds, the Nets also looked completely lost when trying to prevent the Blazers from getting offensive rebounds themselves. The Nets finished the game with just three – two from rookie Derrick Favors – and allowed the Blazers an extra twelve possessions on offensive rebounds alone.

These two figures added up to an alarming stat: The Blazers attempted 78 shots last night, the Nets only 59. That’s right. The Blazers shot more than a quarter’s worth of shots in this one. The fact that the Nets won is astounding. The fact that their lack of control almost cost them this game is extremely disappointing.

I know that I might come off as overly critical – for goodness sake, the Nets haven’t been able to close any games recently and came away with a close win against an above-.500 team. That’s true, and that’s awesome. This was a great win. The reason I’m being critical is not because I think they played poorly, but because of how great they looked in those spurts. They can do better. The Nets were the more talented team on the floor last night, and there’s no doubt about that in my mind. The Blazers had three guys who really contributed (Roy, Aldridge, & Matthews), while the Nets had a balanced effort & solid contributions up & down the roster. But it’s these little things – grabbing rebounds & reversing the turnover differential – that turned a potentially huge blowout into a nailbiter down to the wire.

More thoughts after the jump.

Kim Kardashian needs to come to every game. Not only is she the best eye candy the Nets have gotten in a long time, but her current beau Kris Humphries played like a man among boys on defense – he finished the game with eight defensive rebounds & four blocked shots, and at least three of those could be included in the definition for “ferocious.” Is Devin Harris still dating that Playboy model? There’s got to be some upside here, right? Seriously, if Humphries keeps playing like this, something’s gotta give – the Nets have three natural power forwards who are all primed to contribute, and Humphries is playing head and shoulders above the other two.

Speaking of which, Troy Murphy made his first appearance in a Nets uniform since November 13th, checking in for Derrick Favors with 1:45 in the first quarter. He scored his first points shortly after in the second, bodying up the smaller Luke Babbitt and laying the ball in on a swift post move. He looked strong for most of his time in, finding open teammates and hitting shots. However, it’s clear that he’s still not considered a viable part of the rotation yet – he was kept out of the entire second half and was at the end of the bench without any facial expression during the Nets’ 4th-quarter spurt. He seemed frustrated, and I don’t blame him.

The curious case of Tranthony Morrlaw continues. This time, it was the Morrow side that had the good game – 16 points, three three-pointers, four assists and three rebounds – while Outlaw struggled from the field all game, took bad shots, settled for jumpers instead of swinging the ball to an open man on a big possession in the 4th, and outside of a couple of great plays late looked lost defensively. Can we please get these two going at the same time? This is getting ridiculous.

Traveling to the other side of things, Brandon Roy looked phenomenal. Roy is one of my favorite players in the NBA – he’s got that quiet efficiency that I really appreciate and he’s got almost no offensive weaknesses. In terms of play style, I really think he’s the NBA’s closest comparison to Kobe Bryant. Despite the sad story of his meniscusless knee, watching him hit textbook jump shots is one of the more beautiful sights in basketball – no matter who he’s facing. Roy had 15 points in the first half and finished with 21 on 9-16 shooting, including a fallaway corner jumper with Johan Petro’s hand in his face as the shot clock buzzer expired midway through the fourth. He was certainly on his game.

Devin Harris continues to show off moves that remind me more and more of All-Star Devin Harris. Faking defenders out of their shoes, finding open guys on the drive & dish, and doing the extra things that were absent from his game last year – buckling down defensively, utilizing his speed & quickness on offense, & getting quick easy buckets at the rim. Given how the guards look in the East this year, I’ve got to think he’s in serious discussion for his second All-Star bid.

Brook Lopez continues to look awful rebounding, and it’s not just because its staying outside. There was one instance with slightly under five minutes left in the fourth quarter when he literally let a gimme rebound slip out of his hands and into Brandon Roy’s under the rim. This allowed Roy to get a basket right out of the rim and give the Blazers a three-point lead. These kinds of misplays – especially in a close game in which you finish with four rebounds – are just inexcusable.

I’ll end on this note: The Nets shot 24-45 from inside the arc and 7-14 from beyond it. If you extrapolate those numbers to 78 total shots (the amount Portland had in this game), the Nets end up shooting 34-60 on two-pointers and 9-18 on threes. Add the 29 free throws: that’s 124 total points. That’s if they’re even. I know I’m hammering this point home, but believe me, it seriously pays to keep possession.

All in all, a solid win with a lot of room for improvement. Hopefully the Nets can take a lot of these lessons with them, as they face off against cross-state rival New York at the Garden Tuesday night.