Lost in amongst the 10-day signing of Quincy Acy was that the Brooklyn Nets would be without the services of Trevor Booker, the energetic, enigmatic forcefield of power (and newly crowned National Champion by association) thanks to that hip contusion that knocked him out briefly against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday. In lieu of starting the defensive-deficient Luis Scola, the stiff Justin Hamilton, the freshly recalled Chris McCullough, or the aforementioned Acy at power forward, head coach Kenny Atkinson would opt for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to match up with former All-Star Paul Millsap on the block.
Given that, of course, Atkinson coached as assistant for four years with the Atlanta Hawks before earning his head coaching gig with the Nets, it was safe to assume that he had his reasons for sticking the athletic (but much smaller) Hollis-Jefferson on Millsap — but would those concepts come to fruition against the 21-16, 4th seed Hawks?
The jury might be out on that one, but you can’t fault the guy for a lack of a trying, right? With the stakes becoming lower with each passing game, Atkinson has turned to his toolbox for experimentation. Even with the tricky defensive take, the Hawks started 5-6 from the floor and Dennis Schroeder lit Isaiah Whitehead up for 10 points at all angles. Morally opposed to such an explosion, Bojan Bogdanovic made all three of his first quarter three-pointers, prompting YES Network’s Sarah Kustok to exclaim: “What did Bogie have for breakfast?!”
I don’t know, Sarah, but the Nets could’ve used a whole lot more of it.
Outside of Bogdanovic, the Nets struggled as Justin Hamilton (2-8) couldn’t continue his hot streak and Dwight Howard contained Lopez. Elsewhere, former long-time Kris Humphries lit up the Nets’ bench for 10 points and 6 rebounds in the first half and Malcolm Delaney, a summertime target for Brooklyn, dropped a far too easy 8 points on 3-4 shooting.
Just in case you thought the first half couldn’t get any worse, Howard dabbed on Jeremy Lin and I promptly wanted to leave this planet forever.
DWIGHT DABBED ON JEREMY https://t.co/AumkumTWRp
— Kevin Chouinard (@KLChouinard) January 11, 2017
On a related note, the Nets trailed 61-43 at halftime.
If the story early on was the Nets’ inability to get things going, moving, and mixing, it was the introduction of Caris LeVert that truly helped make this game watchable. His crafty finishing, gangly arms, and acute playmaking makes him a contender to take over the creative reins of this Nets team sooner rather than later, especially so as long as Lin remained shelved. If he’s fully healthy, it’s going to be tougher and tougher to take the rookie off the floor and that’s a terribly fun problem to have.
After the jump, the Nets brought more of the same lackluster defense, poor rebounding (Howard racked up 16 of them!), and general disinterest in hitting wide open shots. Although Hollis-Jefferson was one of the team’s bright marks on the night (10 points, 7 rebounds), he stood no chance with those trees in the paint. Yet, nearly in spite of themselves, they were down just 10 points halfway through the quarter, mostly in thanks to Sean Kilpatrick and the renewed efforts of Bogdanovic and Lopez.
But as fleeting optimism goes, the comeback was futile and the Nets continued to hurdle towards a fourth quarter in which newcomer Quincy Acy could feasibly feature in without qualms. With nothing but the window dressings to go, the Nets let Lopez go to work against Mike Muscala and the Hawks’ bench, eventually scoring enough for his 20th game with 20 or more points this season.
Perhaps the Nets will one day have enough firepower to keep up with the Hawks, but tonight is not that night. And that’s OK — and if we’re talking straight #NetGrowth, there are plenty of small positives to take from the outcome, you might just be searching for a while before finding them.
The stats: 11 PTS, 4-9 FG, 3 REB, 2 AST, 2 TOV
The stats: 20 PTS, 8-14 FG, 2 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLK, 1 TOV
A man who often has been outplayed by Howard throughout their careers was crushed in the wake once again.
Man, if he’s really on the block, that trade value must fluctuate like the stock market.
The stats: 10 PTS, 2-9 FG, 7 REB, 1 AST, 3 TOV
Other than LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson strongly featured as one of the Nets’ few bright spots on a dim night. He obviously isn’t going to out-rebound Dwight Howard, but, hey, he snagged more than anybody else on the Nets did.
The bad: 2-9 from the floor, the finishing around the rim is still unpolished
The good: 6-6 from the free throw line.
The stats: 4 PTS, 1-4 FG, 7 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 2 TOV
Sneaky good game grade for Spencer Dinwiddie — this, right here, is what the Nets could use every night: a steady hand.