The Nets flounder without a point guard, lose big to Knicks

C

Final: 11/09/2016

L 96 110

Once upon a time, the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks were big-time rivals with championship aspirations. No, really, your memory might be hazy now, but in 2013, these cross-town enemies featured Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Tyson Chandler, and more.

Yes, the coaches — Mike Woodson, Lionel Hollins, Jason Kidd (again), Derek Fisher, and Tony Brown — have come and gone, but the expectations will always stay sky high. And with a lack of draft picks and brief forays into an Andrea Bargnani era on both sides, the two franchise’s so-called rivalry has taken a hit.

However, that didn’t stop Derrick Rose from calling the New York Knicks a superteam this summer.

This is not written haphazardly, or as a smug-in-your-face type of introduction; of course, the season is still so young — but the Nets had a special opportunity tonight. Between the Knicks’ 2-4 record, 27th-worst Drtg, and the less-than-hidden dislike for Kurt Rambis’ sudden rise as the team’s defensive force, they’re suddenly on the edge of ravine.

It would be a real shame if the Nets sent them off the deep end.

And, even without Jeremy Lin (hamstring), the Nets have played well so far this season — but, in their only nationally televised matchup of the season, could they help hit reset on this rivalry’s stale blandness?

With the Nets off until Saturday after the Knicks game, that meant that Brook Lopez would play in the second night of a back-to-back — and, boy, Brooklyn, without a true point guard, would need every bucket. Instead of looking to get some touches for the lone survivor from that distant 2013 roster, the Nets continued to feed his insatiable hunger from behind the arc.

Add in some triples from Justin Hamilton and Joe Harris, and a massive stuff by Lopez on Kristaps Porzingis’ dunk attempt — the Nets raced out to a 29-19 lead against the Knicks (7-24 FG%) and their rough bench unit.

The Nets’ hodgepodge unit of Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Hamilton on Anthony worked (at first) as the superstar got off to a rocky 2-8 start. Hamilton, who carried himself with the New York City swagger of Lin-Manuel himself, scored 15 points on 6-7 shooting and carried the disjointed offense through the latter part of the half.

But through Courtney Lee and Porzingis, the Knicks clawed back, even energizing the until-then near-silent Garden. And, despite a flurry of Lopez buckets late on, the Nets led just 55-50 at the half.

Wouldn’t you know it though, those #PeskyNets turned into the #ThirdQuarterNets right on cue and allowed 8 points in less than 3 minutes — fully, finally, allowing the Knicks back into the game. Suddenly, the ball movement dried up, the forced shots came far too often, and, aside from a few desperation shots from Sean Kilpatrick, were nearly washed in the third quarter.

Anthony got hot — like, I’mma-Hall-of-Famer-and-I-do-what-I-want-hot. Like, “14-straight points for the Knicks while Trevor Booker tried to put the fright of God in him” hot. Somehow, nearly in spite of themselves, the Nets played with fire during their Harris/Scola/Foye/Bogdanovic/Booker lineup to end the quarter, but held on for just a one-point deficit.

Unfortunately, for once, it did not translate into fourth quarter success, it did not turn into a Kilpatrick explosion, or great team defense, or any of the other little things the Nets have done well this year. Full stop.

After scoring 29 and 26 points over the first two quarters, the Nets managed just 41 in total for the entire second half. Ultimately, it was just too much of an ask for Hamilton and Lopez to take on the Knicks alone — the Nets’ third-highest scorer was Harris with 8 — and without a real point guard — no offense to Foye, Kilpatrick, and Ferrell — they really missed Whitehead tonight.

The Nets had a chance to send the Knicks into a real dangerous spot and, instead, they probably just gave their rivals the jump-start their season was missing.

Damn.

Brook Lopez

B

The stats: 21 PTS, 8-12 FG, 4 REB, 1 AST, 3 BLK, 1 TOV

Without a natural point guard to penetrate and get Brook Lopez easy looks, the Nets took the seven-footer to ball. In fact, the very first play of the night was a Lopez spot-up from behind the arc. But with Hamilton & Friends running the Knicks out of the building in the second quarter, Kenny Atkinson didn’t need his playmaker until 5 minutes left in the half.

When he wants to score, an aggressive Lopez is tough to stop. But, on the second night of a back-to-back, the Nets were closely monitoring the big man’s minutes — which is bad for the rest of team, obviously.

By the time he arrived again, the game was over. The minutes-watching is the right call, but it’ll frustrate fans when they waive the white flag in the third quarter of a winnable game.

The Brooklyn Nets

B

The stats: 5 PTS, 2-3 FG, 1 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 3 TOV

Yogi Ferrell, welcome to the NBA.

With Greivis Vasquez waived, Whitehead concussed, and Lin injured — it was Ferrell’s time to shine, plucked fresh off the Long Island Nets’ roster this afternoon.

It wasn’t all pretty and he’s likely to rush in a bad pass or double team — but, hey, look at the improvements Whitehead alone has made over the last week. He forced Jennings into a turnover immediately, scored on a layup a few moments later, and contributed on team-high 5 assists.

So fresh that NBA.com doesn’t even have a picture for him yet.

All in all, not a horrible debut at all.

News from Around NYC