For about 40 minutes, the Nets looked up to the task against the Los Angeles Clippers, but, for the first time since buying him out, they really missed the contributions of Joe Johnson.
The Nets got off to a hot start, perhaps motivated by the near-tip-off news that the Clippers would introduce their new, terrifying mascot at halftime, and they leaned on Brook Lopez and Wayne Ellington hard. Ellington looked like he was trying to go toe-to-toe with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar-winning performance and carry the entire team on his back. The former Laker felt right at home in the Staples Center and shot his way to 10 points on 4-5 from the field in the first.
Elsewhere, Donald Sloan was up to his usual tricks chasing around the opposing player while also holding his own offensively. So even though Chris Paul penetrated enough to get 4 first quarter assists, Sloan fired back for 7 points of his own. However, the second quarter keys were handed over immediately to Shane Larkin, who promptly crashed the car into a ditch. While he tried to stay with Paul with less than satisfactory results, he was far more damaging on offense.
At halftime, this was simply a case of a bad team getting beaten by a good one.
Lopez, who was, by the way, the Nets’ leading assist man in the first half with 3 (ew), did what he could against the balmy Clipper defense, but it was not sustainable. Imagine that, a team that runs an actual offense through some of the league’s best point guards, shooters, and rebounders ultimately out lasted a squad that could be called “freeballin’ it” at best.
I know, I’m shocked as well.
Against all odds, the Nets took a 70-69 lead on Bojan Bogdanovic’s first three-pointer of the night and their extended 12-2 run helped them hold a narrow 2-point lead by some logic that still defies me. The universe evened itself out as Jamal Crawford nailed a third quarter-ending three-pointer, putting the Clippers up 2 and righting all karmic aura in one fell swoop.
The fourth quarter quickly brought the Nets playing with both fire and house money by gambling on the bench unit, including Sergey Karasev and Chris McCullough, for the first four minutes of action. After Karasev and McCullough just misfired on an alley-oop attempt, the Clippers showed signs of pulling away once and for all.
Crawford (26 points) and Paul (23) would ultimately put away the fading Nets, the fourth ending the same way the half did:
A good team beat a bad team — the effort was there, the execution was not. One team has Chris Paul, the other one has two NBA journeymen at point guard. One team has J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, the other had three quarters of a now potentially concussed Ellington.
It turns out, this was a never a fair battle, the Nets just stuck around way longer than they should have.
The stats: 25 PTS, 9-17 FG, 10 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLK, 3 TOV
Brook Lopez is crafty, we’ve been over this –but sometimes, it pays to be as quick as possible.
Of course, this is not to say that Lopez is quicker than anybody, much less DeAndre Jordan, but he had one of the quickest trigger fingers in the Wild West tonight. It hardly seemed like Lopez held onto the ball for more than a few seconds on most possessions, using that patented push shot in order to keep the shot-blocking Jordan out of position.
Defensively, Lopez did what he could, but with Sloan’s poor showing against Paul, the center had two massive responsibilities: stop the Paul drive and/or a Jordan dunk.