Nets clinch playoff spot over strong West team

Nets clinch playoff spot over strong West team
Shaun Livingston, Deron Williams
Shaun Livingston, Deron Williams, & the Nets were all smiles as they clinched a playoff spot. (AP)

Hello Ben. You’re a fast typer. I’m a slow learner. Thank you for your continued support of The Brooklyn Game. Say hello to your friends in a sweet t-shirt or hoodie that you can pick up at The Brooklyn Game Store. Your support keeps us going!

Here’s a roundup of last night’s Nets festivities.

– Box Score –

What happened: On the day Jason Kidd won an historic second Coach of the Month award, the Brooklyn Nets led a tough Houston Rockets team for the entire second half, rolling behind Joe Johnson’s game-high 32 points and some solid contributions from the bench to pull out a 105-96 victory.

Where they stand: The big news: the Nets clinched a playoff At 40-33, the Nets inch closer to home-court advantage, 1.5 games behind both the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors with 9 games remaining.

Should either team end the season with an identical record to the Nets, both the Bulls and Raptors hold tiebreakers over the Nets to earn the higher seed, with one exception: if the Nets win their division and end in with an identical record to the Bulls, the Nets would get the higher seed.

The game was also Brooklyn’s last game against Western Conference teams. They finish 18-12 against the Western Conference, the second-best record among Eastern Conference teams against the West.

That Was… A solid second-half performance with red-hot ball movement that led to open shots for Joe Johnson. Johnson scored his game-high 32 points within the team’s system, taking smart, welcome shots without overshooting.

The Nets got off to an early hot start by playing an antithesis to Houston Rockets basketball: Deron Williams and Joe Johnson each put up mid-range jumpers as the Rockets played their usual “three-pointer, layup, or get fouled” offense.

It was a weird convergence of styles: the run-and-gun, shoot-and-drive Houston team facing the more methodical, inside-out, work-the-midrage-but-still-shoot-from-deep Nets. But the Nets came out on top thanks to some hot mid-range shooting and advantageous offense inside.

So much for Moreyball, huh?

A Game Of 14: The Nets snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Rockets, set a franchise record and extended their home winning streak to 14 consecutive games, and improved to 14-4 against the Western Conference since January 1st and 14-5 with Mason Plumlee in the starting lineup.

The Nets held the Rockets to just 14-40 shooting in the second half, and Houston shot just 6-20 — missing 14 shots — in the fourth quarter.

The Nets were led by Joe Johnson, who hit four or more threes for the 14th time this season. Shaun Livingston, who wears number 14, had six field goals, six rebounds, and two assists, which adds up to 14.

Game Grades: Read ’em here.

Joe Cool: Joe Johnson put up an enormous game by most standards: a game-high 32 points, 13-21 shooting, 4-8 from deep, four rebounds, three assists, and just one turnover in 34 minutes:

The talk after the game about Johnson is that he’s often able to dominate a game without anyone noticing. He’ll hit one shot, then another, and before you know it he has thirty points. “It’s like the saying: you score a touchdown, you act like you’ve been there before,'” Kidd said. “That’s what he does. He scores. There’s no celebration.”

Nets guard Shaun Livingston offered another reason: Johnson’s varied approach to the game. “He can do it in every single way,” Livingston said. “There’s not many guys in this league that can do it like that. Inside-out, off the dribble, catch-and-shoot, space the floor, he provides this team with so many different weapons in his arsenal.”

It’s an interesting thought. If a guy hits eight threes, you notice that. If Shaun Livingston hits his patented pull-up jumper three times in a row, it looks sizable. But if Johnson hits a post-up hook shot, a mid-range jumper off a hand-off, an isolation mid-range jumper, a three-pointer in semi-transition, a driving floater, a putback off an offensive rebound, a driving layup, and makes good on a trip to the line, that’s 17 quick points in a variety of ways without the usual cognition of seeing a guy make an identical move over and over again.

By the way: that above isn’t hyperbole, that’s just what his first half looked like.

No Thornton: Marcus Thornton sat out to rest his lower back again. Andrei Kirilenko and Kevin Garnett also sat out, as expected.

Celebreday: In attendance and not playing: Jay-Z, Beyonce, Biz Markie, Raekwon, Travie McCoy, Ron Darling, Gio Gonzalez, Kenny Anderson, Lloyd Daniels, Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez.

Beyonce enjoyed the arena lollipops.
Beyonce enjoyed the arena lollipops.

Brookday! It was Brook Lopez’s 26th birthday — yes, his birthday is on April Fool’s Day — and Lopez was on hand to watch the game with his teammates, still in a walking boot but noticeably clean-shaven. Lopez told us before the game that he’d gotten a shave and a haircut for the team photo shoot, but ended up being late to the photo shoot and missed it entirely.

3PG: In the second quarter, Brooklyn briefly flirted with a three-point guard lineup, with Jorge Gutierrez, Deron Williams, and Shaun Livingston all sharing the floor together. Results inconclusive.

WE’RE GOING STREAKING! Deron Williams extended his streak of games with at least one steal to 23, the best in the NBA this season, and Joe Johnson extended his streak of games with at least one three-pointer to 22, the longest of Johnson’s career.

Nomer Asik:

Click the image for the GIF.
Click the image for the GIF.

So close, Asik. So, so close. What does “close” mean?

My Thoughts At The Half: I really had no faith they’d win tonight. Now, maybe…

A moment of clarity: There are moments in Brooklyn’s offensive schemes when everything just clicks: opposing defenses get stuck trying to guard one side or the other, and after about four or five passes, the Nets find someone open at the rim or beyond the arc for an easy basket. That’s what happened for a brief stretch in the third quarter, and it’s how the Nets ballooned their lead to as much as 11 in the third.

Weird Math: The Rockets are a team that makes their offense tick in specific areas: they famously look to get shots only from inside the paint, outside the arc, or the free throw line. For the most part, they got that process tonight: they scored 42 of their points in the paint, 30 more from outside the arc, and 22 at the line, making for 94 of their 96 points. But the Nets limited their effectiveness in those areas: Houston missed 25 three-pointers and 24 shots in the paint.

This is what a Rockets shot chart looks like.
This is what a Rockets shot chart looks like.

Did Jay-Z Show Shaun Livingston Love?

According to Shaun Livingston, yes, Jay-Z did show Shaun Livingston love.

Next up: The Nets travel across the river to play in Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks tomorrow. The Nets clinched a playoff spot Tuesday night with their win over the Rockets, and now they’ve got a chance to put a real dent in the Knicks’ chances at a playoff spot. They’re one game behind the Hawks for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.