Ah, everybody’s favorite mini-West Coast roadtrip is suddenly upon us and for the Brooklyn Nets, it’s actually a true test of their young character. Of course, they’re still without Jeremy Lin (hamstring) and Isaiah Whitehead (concussion), but they were 2-0 against the Phoenix Suns in 2015-2016 — and it would serve as a nice warmup for the fill-ins before they go against Chris Paul, D’Angelo Russell, and Russell Westbrook over the next 7 days.
Perhaps it was their lingering jet lag or road woes in general, but the Nets came out sloppy against the sprier Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, racking up 7 turnovers in the first quarter alone. Even stranger, Brook Lopez blocked 3 shots in the game’s opening minute, but contributed 0 points for the cause, one that would somehow see the Nets up 23-21.
Lead by the bench unit of Randy Foye, Yogi Ferrell, Luis Scola, and Justin Hamilton, the Nets, surprisingly improved, surprisingly, and they executed the ever-so-elegant gameplan to a tee: shoot as many three-pointers as possible. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, still rocking the new headband, was the Nets’ best player of the half, aggressively filling up the stat sheet with a 14/8/2 line — a much better output than his opening week or so.
And, thanks to it, the Nets actually gave the Suns some major issues throughout the second quarter. The Nets, who nearly shot a higher percentage from three-point range than two (42% vs 47%), extinguished the Suns’ reliable scorers to the tune of a team-wide 31% and just 3-18 from downtown. Had it not been for Marquese Chriss’ 11 points in the first half — his career high prior to tonight was just 9 — the Nets would’ve been up by more than 11 at the break.
The Rondae Reloaded:
14 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 5-8 FG, crooked headband — absolutely fearless. pic.twitter.com/D2uk8OlQX3
— Ben Nadeau (@Ben__Nadeau) November 13, 2016
On the other side, Hollis-Jefferson, playing front of friends and family from his time at the University of Arizona, was a pinball tonight. At times, it seemed as if the sophomore would be better suited for a running back role as he took hit after hit in the lane, bouncing up each time with renewed energy.
The Nets were able to stay out in front thanks to Kilpatrick, obviously relishing in his opportunity before he plays three of the league’s best point guards in succession, but his point guard skills have continued to grow with each night.
And yet, it was Jared Dudley, who the Nets pursued briefly this summer, that reinvigorated the Suns, nailing 4 three-pointers in the third quarter alone. It’s an unfortunate issue for the Nets right now, but the Scola/Hamilton/Harris/Ferrell/Foye lineup is just… not good enough. Sure, it works a bit better when Kilpatrick and Whitehead are part of the second unit, but they’re not defensively stout enough to stop anybody, nor do they have a go-to scorer on offense.
One might say, given all their other issues and expectations, it’s the Nets’ biggest issue right now.
With under 5 minutes to play, the Nets held a slim 102-98 lead — but with Lopez struggling, who would be their hero?
Stop me if this sounds familiar: Trevor Booker.
From his classic ill-advised no-no-no-YES! coast-to-coast layups to hitting clutch free throws, it was Booker in the closer role again. His energy is often unparalleled and his penchant for big bucket is more than welcome night after night. After a couple freebies from Hollis-Jefferson and a dagger three-pointer from Lopez with 1:47 left — the Nets were suddenly up by 15.
It wasn’t easy (and it won’t ever be until a point guard returns from injury) but good gosh, to borrow a phrase from our friend Han Solo:
The grit, the hustle, the effort, it’s true… all of it.
The stats: 19 PTS, 6-10 FG, 5-8 3PT, 2 REB, 1 AST, 3 TOV
Did his job, hit 5 three-pointers — what else do you want?
Congratulations, you’ve won the game!
The stats: 11 PTS, 3-11 FG, 5 REB, 2 AST, 2 TOV
It wasn’t your typical outing for the franchise center but he did hit a dagger three-pointer with 1:47 to go.
So, right, just as we expected.
The stats: 20 PTS, 5-12 FG, 10-11 FT, 13 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 3 TOV
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s star shined brighter than all of Phoenix’s Suns tonight, single-handedly out hustling the Nets’ opposition en route to a near first half double-double.
Hollis-Jefferson is at his finest when he’s stomped on the pedal and making others pay for their hesitation. He didn’t settle for iffy jump shots nor did he try to make too much happen. Self-contained and aggressive, all the best qualities of the Nets’ promising sophomore were on full display tonight.
To me, it was the best game of Hollis-Jefferson’s career.