Despite heroic efforts from Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young (46 points), the Nets failed tremendously to spoil Joe Johnson’s first game back against his former side. 30 points from Dwyane Wade led the way for the playoff-bound Heat and 20 turnovers sunk the Nets before crunch time.
Following three successful runs to the playoffs, including last year’s slog to the 8th seed, the Nets are currently in uncharted territory since moving to Brooklyn. Of course, the Nets have been mathematically eliminated from post-season contention, but it has revealed a new (and young), athletic (and fun) identity of the in flux franchise: spoilers.
After backing into the final playoff spot over the Indiana Pacers in 2014-2015 by way of tiebreaker, they gave the surging Midwest team a loss that may come to haunt them eventually. As far the Nets go, they are just a shell of their former optimistic dreams and aspirations, but they’re now just hanging around in order to ruin everybody else’s.
Enter: the Miami Heat.
Without Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic, the Nets could’ve dealt a heavy blow to the Heat’s first-round homecourt advantage dreams. In Dragic’s play-making stead was Joe Johnson, the Nets’ former franchise player they bought out late last month, and he did not disappoint. The Heat led for much of the first quarter on Johnson’s 5 assists and Dwyane Wade’s near-perfect shooting. However, the Nets themselves shot 68% from the field and Bojan Bogdanovic, Brook Lopez, and Thaddeus Young combined to hit 9 of their 12 attempts for 18 points.
With Wayne Ellington out of the rotation now in favor of the younger crowd, they would need another sharpshooter to step in and mimic the former Tarheel’s 7 three-pointer effort from December. Early on, that would belong to Sean Kilpatrick, whose fearlessness is truly something to behold. His reckless, relentless pursuit of all things points had the Nets up by 1 with 7 minutes left in the half.
Unfortunately, the Karasev on Wade experiment was less than successful and the future Hall of Famer put up an early scoring line (17 points) similar to LeBron James’ effort last Thursday. Suddenly, despite Brooklyn’s bright start, they allowed 40 points in the paint en route to 5 point deficit at halftime, only saved by Lopez’s convincingly smooth touch under the rim.
The second half was a game of small runs, fueled in part by the steals and subsequent turnovers by Shane Larkin. While Lopez and Young (40 points through the third quarter) did most of the offensive damage, the Nets had no answer whatsoever for Wade. Which is funny because they hardly gave rookie, and the team’s only above average perimeter defender, Rondae Hollis Jefferson a chance at him and their lack of stops and conviction pushed Miami’s lead to 10 with 3 minutes left in the third.
While Young and Lopez’s attempts were valiant, they just did not get help from the other Nets. Following a handful of Hassan Whiteside alley-oops and Josh Richardson three-pointers, the Heat were up 7 after three quarters. Tony Brown, as brave as ever, played with some incredible fire to start the final frame by deploying Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough, Donald Sloan, Henry Sims, and Markel Brown for what seemed like an ageless infinity.
By the time Lopez and Young saw the floor again, the Nets were down 93-79 with just 7 minutes left — and much to the chagrin of McCullough, the Nets are no Syracuse Orange in terms of rallying. In fact, 20 turnovers and 3 three-pointers (2 of them well after Miami had secured the victory) might not even get it done against said aforementioned Final Four-bound team.
With just three players in double-figures (Lopez, Young, Kilpatrick), the final score is rather generous towards the Nets’ overall effort. Without Kilpatrick’s 10 first half and 4 garbage-time points, the rest of the Nets bench shot just 8-17 for a grand total of 20 points.
Whiteside finished with 27 points on his own.
So, no, the Nets didn’t get to play the spoiler role for the third time in 5 days, but baby steps should be expected for this new-look squad. With just 9 games left, they’re running out of time to experiment. Let’s just hope their next test finds the magic formula for not letting their opponents shoot 57% from the floor.
The stats: 26 PTS, 12-20 FG, 4 REB, 1 BLK, 4 TOV
What is left to say about Brook Lopez? Without Bosh, Lopez was left to his own devices against Stoudemire and, occasionally, Whiteside. And for all of Whiteside’s growing prowess as a shot-blocker, he had little answer for Lopez down low.
Whether it was Lopez’s uncanny circus shots or pirouetting layups, he was a tough ask on every possession. Considering that Young and Kilpatrick were the only other two up for scoring tonight, Lopez deserves some credit for carrying the team once again.
25 points again?