Nets crumble against Hornets, fail to claim tie-breaker

D

Final: 03/01/2019

L 112 123

When the Nets and Hornets teams have faced off this season, fireworks followed. Whether it was D’Angelo Russell dropping 40 or Joe Harris laying the ball in to win in double-overtime, the games were always entertaining. With both teams fighting for the playoffs, the pressure was on in Brooklyn.

This time, the Nets fell flat. 

In a first quarter where 63 combined points were scored, DeMarre Carroll was the only player on either team who scored in double digits. It was the first sign of how the game would continue: with a great team effort on offense, but defense optional.

After a tight start to the game, fans saw an unwelcome sight midway through the second quarter — a roster that looked like the team that lost eight games in a row earlier this season. Brooklyn delivered the Hornets the ball on a silver platter multiple times while escorting them to the paint where they then deposited it in the hoop at their convenience. This stretch led to a 23-5 run for Charlotte.

While this was courteous for the Nets to do, it is obviously in no way conducive to winning NBA basketball games, especially with a fully healthy roster. 

The Nets were lucky to limp into halftime only trailing by 18 points. And when they came out of the tunnel to start the second half, they hadn’t fixed the limp, as it looked like the Hornets were going to quickly put the Nets out of their misery.

Then a miracle appeared on the horizon for the Nets in the form of a lineup featuring Rodions Kurucs and Rondae-Hollis Jefferson. Their defensive flexibility allowed Brooklyn to switch on nearly every screen, giving the Hornets’ offense tougher looks. Those two worked together to bring the deficit back to single digits after it had exceeded 20.

But the mirage proved too good to be true and was quickly replaced by the reality that the Nets were going to lose this game with legitimate playoff implications.

If the Nets won this game, it would have given them a 3-1 series lead over the Hornets, which would have effectively put them an extra game ahead in the standings. With their loss, the series is instead tied at 2-2.

The problem with that is, for example, if Brooklyn and Charlotte are tied for the 8th seed at the end of the regular season, the next tiebreaker after the head-to-head record is that if one of the teams won their division, they get the spot. The Nets have the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics ahead of them in their division. The Hornets’ only competition is the Orlando Magic.

If that scenario were to occur — knock on wood — then the Nets would have tonight’s lackluster showing to thank for it.

Spencer Dinwiddie

B

The stats: 15 PTS, 6-13 FG, 1-5 3PT, 4 AST, 1 STL, 2 TO

This game was not the best “Welcome Back!” party. Sorry, Spence!

The good news is the Dinwiddie already looks to be back to his old self — including his feud with the referees, which he was quick to pick back up tonight, probably justifiably. Also, given the circumstances of the Nets getting beat,  he did a swell job of running the second unit.

The obvious rotation casualty of Dinwiddie’s return is Shabazz Napier, who saw about half a minute of playing time when Spencer got into foul trouble right before the second quarter ended.

DeMarre Carroll

A-

The stats: 20 PTS, 5-10 FG, 3-5 3PT, 5 REB, 1 AST, 1 BLK, 0 TO

DeMarre Carroll was the best player Brooklyn had on the floor.

He was truly a Swiss Army knife, doing a bit of everything on the court. His veteran presence and consistency will be crucial down the stretch if the Nets want to hold onto their spot in the playoffs.

P.S. He hit 7 of hit 8 free throws!

Rodions Kurucs

B

The stats: 6 PTS, 3-4 FG, 0-1 3PT, 3 REB, 1 AST, 1 TO

Rodi was half of the dynamic duo that brought false hope to Nets fans everywhere.

But dang, did he do it in style! It was a welcome sight to see Rodi getting significant minutes — 18 to be exact — and using them well after his recent stretch of up and down performances.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

B+

The stats: 6 PTS, 3-3 FG, 4 REB, 3 AST, 1 TO

Rondae played smart and controlled basketball tonight.

Along with Kurucs, Rondae helped bring the Nets back from the brink before they decided to leap anyway. The biggest boon he offered was, as always, his defensive flexibility. His ability to switch onto nearly any player in the game is invaluable as teams spend more time scouting Brooklyn and finding ways to exploit the team’s weak one-on-one defenders.

 

His problem this season has been his erratic and uncontrollable play on the offensive end, but that was noticeably absent tonight as he took good shots and made the right passes. This is the Rondae Hollis-Jefferson that this team has been missing.

D'Angelo Russell

C

The stats: 22 PTS, 9-24 FG, 1-7 3PT, 9 AST, 3 TO

D’Angelo Russell is the superstar that this team deserves, but not the one they needed on Friday. 

Russell has been playing the best basketball of his career in the past month with Dinwiddie sidelined. While it has been great to watch him pull this squad back from certain doom time and time again, it has been covering up significant problems. The team’s defensive effort is often questionable, and there is a lack of shot creators on the roster and a gaping hole at the four position that the coaching staff still has not found a solution to.

D’Angelo Russell has been a band-aid covering up the symptoms, but this team still has problems to solve. 

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