Coming off one of their best performances of the year against the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets searched to keep the good times going against the Isaiah Thomas-less Boston Celtics. Of course, you don’t need the situation repeated, but the couldn’t-be-more-opposite realities need to be mentioned.
The Celtics are currently battling it out with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference’s best record and the Nets are in beyond last place. The Celtics may have homecourt advantage until the NBA Finals and the Nets still have to give the likely No. 1 overall pick to them this summer.
But on this night, a random, meaningless Friday in mid-March, could the Nets take down a team without their dependent superstar?
Early on, the Nets took advantage of a Celtics side still adjusting to life without the microwaveable efforts of Thomas, but some careless ball handling allowed the visitors to retake the lead. Brook Lopez would, unfortunately, start cold at just 2-6, and some early minutes for both K.J. McDaniels and Andrew Nicholson weren’t enough to reverse their first quarter fortunes.
The second quarter was much of the same as the Nets just simply attempted to tread water until the starters could return. However, when even Gerald Green is cashing in from deep against you, the odds aren’t in your favor. While an aggressive guard combination of Isaiah Whitehead and Spencer Dinwiddie looked to make things happen, the ice cold shooting of Quincy Acy and Andrew Nicholson made it tough to gain any ground.
By the time the starters did return, they were, miraculously, only down by 5 points. Both teams tottered along with shooting percentages in the high 20s for much of the half and your lead scorer was Avery Bradley and his 11 points. So, uh, not the game tape we’ll be showing aliens when they ask what basketball is.
At halftime, remarkably, it was Boston in the lead 45-37.
Out of the break, it was a refocused effort from Lopez, whose 7 quick points had the Nets within one possession. Even pushing ahead thanks to a 12-3 to start the half punctuated by a Lin three-pointer, the Nets instantly looked much improved after their difficult first 24 minutes. Lopez single-handedly kept the Nets alive, cooking Amir Johnson time and time again, but once Lin left the court the Celtics began to pull away.
But an insanely hot start to the fourth quarter saw a small lineup featuring Randy Foye, Dinwiddie, and Whitehead lead a much-needed barrage from deep. After back-to-back-to-back three-pointers, the Nets swapped their 6-point deficit for a 3-point lead — but they weren’t done there.
With 4 minutes to go, the Nets found themselves tied 85-85 after two more huge three-pointers, this time courtesy of Foye and LeVert — all secured without Lin on the court. Dinwiddie and Marcus Smart would trade free throws to put the game at 95-91 with 24 seconds left — could Kenny Atkinson cook up any magic?
After Bradley split a pair of free throws with 9 seconds left — Atkinson could draw up one last chance to force extra basketball. Out of the timeout, both Lopez and Acy would get close looks from three to tie it, but both would hit off the back rim.
As all division winners go, others ended stepping up for the Celtics without Thomas, notably Jae Crowder, and they did just enough to hold off those pesky Nets once more. Sadly, the Nets will keep searching for their first win streak of the season, but they proved tonight that they’ve still capable of keeping things close, even without a hot shooting night.
The stats: 23 PTS, 8-18 FG, 5 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2 TOV
Brook Lopez was the Nets player that most resembled a professional basketball tonight and for good reason. While the rest of the team put up some of their worst shooting performances of the season, Lopez’s early success in the second half paved the way for an important Nets run.
From three-pointers to fancy spin moves, Lopez was every bit the stud you’d expect him to be on his home court.
The stats: 5 PTS, 1-6 FG, 4 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL
As much as Caris LeVert deserves to be a starter, you’ve got to wonder if he wouldn’t be better off provided some scoring punch for a bench unit that doesn’t have Sean Kilpatrick or Trevor Booker right now.