One might say that swapping Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan for D’Angelo Russell and Roy Hibbert would bring forth prosperous successes.
I would say that this must be your first Nets game and they make nothing easy.
With that cautionary warning out of the way, the Nets, in the same building as last night’s Lob City exhibition, took on the Kobe Bryant-less Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately for the Nets, that meant the semi-sensible decision to play Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Russell at once. Brooklyn looked ragged and worn, certainly wearing the badge of a former 40-minute slugfest with a physical NBA powerhouse from the night before.
Lead in part by creative outputs from Hibbert and Clarkson, the Lakers managed to get any shot they pleased while Nets not named Thaddeus Young were left reeling in the worst way. Brook Lopez, the Nets’ All-Time Leader in PPG against the Lakers at a shade over 24, stared off 1-5 against the standing lampshade of Hibbert while the quartet of Bojan Bogdanovic, Markel Brown, Donald Sloan, and Shane Larkin combined for a 3-10 first half.
I only say this because it led to extended minutes for Sean Kilpatrick, as the scoring punch exhibited that hunger, fire, and deadeye shooting that the Nets have sorely missed at times this season. He’s certainly not shy and you could see him pounding his chest passionately after he and Willie Reed forced a 24-second violation near halfcourt. In a system currently depending on Sloan and Bogdanovic for 10+ points each per night, I’d suspect there’s a great chance Kilpatrick will stick around until year’s end.
If you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve successfully avoided saying the score up until this point. Who needs to know that the Nets were down 58-50 at half time? And has anyone not recognized the pattern of young, athletic teams eating the Nets alive? If we thought Chris Paul was tough, imagine getting destroyed by Russell (15 points, 6-10 FG) on what seemed like every possession downcourt. Surely, the Nets are dreaming of Mike Conley in free agency, but can they afford to roll with Sloan and Larkin for the last 21 games?
By the third quarter’s end, the Lakers had four members in double figures: Randle, Hibbert, Russell, and Clarkson, capped off by Clarkson’s buzzer-beating three-pointer, massively similar to Jamal Crawford’s backbreaker the night before. Per YES and Ian Eagle, this was just the 13th time the Lakers had a fourth quarter lead of any kind, just in case you were wondering where the cherry on top of this melted sundae was.
Russell, who was mostly given free shooting practice tonight, torched the Nets for eight three-pointers, including one sequence that may as well define the entire Brooklyn plight in 2015-2016. Thomas Robinson fired a pass into the paint, but directly in the path of LA’s Tarik Black. Then, Black tried to push a fastbreak opportunity, to which, Robinson stepped in and stole the ball right back. Following an unnecessary, flashy behind-the-back-pass from Robinson to Kilpatrick, Black then blocked the D-League call-up, and a new Laker fastbreak began. Of course, it ended with a 3-on-2 and a wide-open Russell three.
Following a couple fantastic Lopez baskets and subsequent foul-out, Russell just started posting up from as deep as possible. A few Wayne Ellington and Bogdanovic last-gasp efforts kept it within arm’s reach, but this was a special night for the Lakers’ rookie. Culminating in one of the ballsiest heat checks I’ve ever seen, Russell pulled up close to Stephen Curry range and drilled his eighth three-pointer of the night and the Nets could only shrug and accept it.
Like I said, performance art. Nobody plays the Nets’ brand of basketball quite like the Nets can. That statement has no business making any sense whatsoever, but you and I both now that it’s the most truthful thing I’ve ever written.
Last night, I wrote that it wasn’t a fair battle to pitt athletes like Paul and Jordan against Sloan and Robinson — it just turns out that it’s a loaded ask no matter who is on the other side.
The stats: 23 PTS, 9-18 FG, 7 REB, 4 AST, 1 BLK, 2 TOV, 6 PF
11 points, but 0 rebounds and a perfect 6-6 from Hibbert hurts his grade in a big way over the first 24 minutes. Although many of the Nets were defense-optional tonight, this overall effort was not his best. Sure, he’s been historically great against the Lakers and on one of the best two-month tears of his career, but you know what they say, right?
This is all Roy Hibbert’s world, we’re just living in it.
Late, determined efforts by Lopez helped cut the Lakers’ lead to just 5, but he would foul out moments later. No amount of Brook Lopez Face could save him and the Nets, who have little 4th quarter options outside of the center, were good and well sunk.