Nets fans collectively exhaled in relief last night after Reggie Jackson’s game-winning shot attempt bounced off the rim as time expired: for the third straight season, the Nets triumphed in Oklahoma City, winning 94-92 against a depleted Thunder team that was equally desperate for a victory.
It wasn’t pretty, but they got the job done, behind 23 points off the bench from Jarrett Jack and 16 points & 10 rebounds from Brook Lopez. But tonight, the Nets (5-7) will face a far more intimidating cast of characters when they tip-off in San Antonio at 8:30 P.M. EST.
The Spurs (8-4) are coming off a 121-92 thrashing of Minnesota last night, playing at the high level that’s led them to the NBA Finals the past two seasons. Kevin Garnett is out for the Nets, getting a rest day.
As expected from a Gregg Popovich-coached team, the defense has been stifling in the early going, ranked second in the league in points allowed per possession. It’s a cohesive and balanced unit. The Nets will have to up their game considerably if they hope to return to Brooklyn with a pair of wins.
Despite the victory last night, a few red flags raised that could give cause for concern. Early in the third quarter, Hollins and Lopez appeared to have a disagreement over a missed help defense opportunity, and after a brief outburst, the big man was shown the bench. The ten rebounds grabbed by Lopez were encouraging, however, because it’s been a season-long struggle for him as well as the team.
Mason Plumlee’s limited minutes last night is also telling of the head coach’s frustration. Jerome Jordan, who has gradually received more minutes, jumped ahead of Plumlee in the rotation for the evening, playing 14 minutes. Plumlee got two quick fouls in his only action, and never saw the court again. Hollins appears impatient with Plumlee’s lackluster play this season, and has been looking to Jordan lately for help.
Tonight, the Spurs should present a good litmus test for the Nets and reveal just how prepared they are to compete against top-caliber opponents.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard played limited minutes last night as a result of the giant lead they jumped out to in the third quarter. Parker, despite playing only 25 minutes, still managed to tally 28 points and 5 assists before sitting out the rest of the game.
Deron Williams will need help from his struggling bigs in protecting the rim from the blazing Parker drives that assist in creating oodles of open looks for the Spurs. The last two meetings at AT & T Center resulted in 31- and 21-point defeats for the Nets; there’s no evidence that suggests tonight’s game will be any easier.