Nets lose control as Wizards exploit major weaknesses

John Wall, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams
The Brooklyn Nets could only watch helplessly as the Wizards toppled them, 113-107. (AP)
John Wall, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams
The Brooklyn Nets could only watch helplessly as the Wizards toppled them, 113-107. (AP)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Control. That’s a word that came up multiple times at the podium in the Ortsbo Interview room at Barclays Center, a word that means so much in NBA games. The Nets didn’t exhibit any control over the game in their 113-107 loss over the Washington Wizards, and the combination of missed assignments and sluggishness ultimately led to their demise.

“We scored enough points to win, but there were some rebounds that we couldn’t come up with down the stretch,” coach Jason Kidd said after the game. “We just lost a game that we felt we could control.”

A game they felt they could control, Kidd said. But at times, they looked completely lost.

He’s right about one thing: the Nets offense looked as crisp as ever. Even with a poor shooting performance from Alan Anderson and a lackluster shooting effort from Deron Williams until late, the ball popped around easily on offense, as the Nets got open looks from efficient spots on the floor throughout the game. Other than the occasional Joe Johnson isolation, the Nets had the control they wanted on their side of the floor, and the Wizards couldn’t do much to stop them.

But it was their struggles on the other end of the floor that ultimately led to their demise.

Most notably, the Nets struggled to control the glass, allowing 23 second-chance points (scoring just three) themselves. It was a concerted effort by the Wizards, using creative methods to combat Brooklyn’s traditional pack-the-paint, run-off-shooters defense. Against the Nets, who are already a poor defensive rebounding team and featuring a poor, the Wizards crashed the glass with as many as four players on any defensive possession, surprising the Nets with their movement on offense.

“If we control that (rebounding), I feel like we win the game,” Deron Williams said in muted tones after the game. There’s lack of control popping up again.

“They were non-traditional in a lot of the things they did,” Garnett exhaled. “What I mean by that is that usually a big rolls up (on the pick-and-roll) and everybody can rotate easily. They didn’t do that tonight.

“They crashed three to four guys each time, they were able to get offensive rebounds, and offensive rebounds became second shots. We didn’t do a good job of controlling that and making adjustments.”

You’re supposed to win games when you score 107 points, shoot over 50 percent from the field, and record 28 assists, including 13 from your All-Star point guard for the second straight game. You’re supposed to win when Paul Pierce takes over the fourth quarter, finishing with a season-high 27 points, playing a game that coach Kidd merely called “great” and featuring a few crafty finishes near the end:

But the Nets allowed 19 offensive rebounds and were out-rebounded 51-31, mostly because of that lack of control: over their own positioning and the defensive glass.

Garnett diagnosed the problem in the interview room, noting that the Wizards’ efforts started at the top, with the elite point guard on the other side. “John Wall would drive, we would help, they would have a 2-on-1, we would play the back side, (and) they did a good job of when the ball hit, crashing, and getting offensive rebounds and putbacks.”

It wasn’t just the second-chance points. In our pregame segment #BKConnect on YES Network, Rod Boone & I discussed how the Nets struggled to defend the perimeter, noting that it wasn’t just speed, but scheme and smarts. In baseball, it’s better to be a smart baserunner than a fast one; in basketball, it’s better to be a smart defender than a quick one.

John Wall, Paul Pierce
John Wall (AP)
Basketball is a game of instant reactions, and the Nets struggled to react to the Wizards on the outside, allowing threes by going “under” screens (allowing the Wizards to get clean looks from outside) and not reacting quickly on passes that whizzed around the perimeter.

“They got some great looks,” Kidd glowed about the Wizards perimeter offense. “Wall came out and made his first three. … In the first half, we gave them some shots that they made and then in the second half I think they only made three.

“We’ve just got to get better at recognizing shooters, being able to run those guys off, but I trust those guys. In the second half, we got better, but sometimes you just can’t wait, you’ve got to start it off when the game starts, to take away a weapon that (is) a team’s strength.”

It was their inability to take away two weapons that sent the Nets sputtering to 9-16, still technically out of the Eastern Conference playoffs despite conference-wide struggles. It’s possible that the Nets just lack the personnel to defend the perimeter, and lack the rebounding chops in their frontcourt to limit opponents on the glass.

If that’s true, they’ve got to hope that their offense can carry them to victories on nights like this. Tonight, their offense was at near peak levels, and they still ended with a loss. That’s a troubling thought for this team’s long-term potential.