Nets Survive Themselves, Take Down Pistons

(AP) Hello! The Nets won a game. Here's how:
(AP) Hello! The Nets won a game. Here’s how:

What happened: Playing another one of their famed “Brooklyn Blue Nights” without Brook Lopez or Deron Williams, the Nets nearly did their best to make their fans feel blue: they rushed out to a big lead in the first quarter, lost it in the second, re-gained it midway through the fourth, nearly lost it again, and eventually scraped out a five-point victory against an underwhelming Pistons squad, winning 110-105 at Barclays Center.

Where they stand: At 11-15, the Nets move back ahead of the Boston Celtics for 8th in the Eastern Conference. If the season ended today, they’d face the Toronto Raptors in a playoff rematch.

That was… Weird, and ugly, and weird.

The Nets truly did play great basketball for stretches tonight: they ended the game tying their season-high with 29 assists, which was all anybody could talk about after the game. Lionel Hollins, Jarrett Jack, Mason Plumlee, and Kevin Garnett all specifically noted that the team finished with 29 assists, which they got by utilizing Jack & Darius Morris in the pick-and-roll and spacing the floor with their shooters.

“Coach and his staff put together a good edit of how they defend (the pick-and-roll), and allowing us to go out here and see our reads,” Jack said after the game. “I thought the guys that were involved in it did a good job executing, attacking the basket whenever they saw was necessary, or finding guys when they over-helped. And our guys knocked down a tremendous amount of shots.”

But the Nets — and forgive me if it’s at this point in the recap that your eyes glaze over and you start thinking about how you’re behind on Christmas shopping, or how you need to finish some paperwork at work, or bears, or something else completely unrelated, because you hear it almost every damn game — struggled to convert even easy looks down the stretch and allowed the Detroit Pistons to get high-percentage look after high-percentage look.

The wild final moments: Even after the Nets had already let a 98-83 lead falter to 102-95, the final 88 seconds were a particularly crude crash-course in Brooklyn’s downtrodden late-game execution. It featured: Brandon Jennings burying a wild step-back three-pointer to cut the lead to four, Mason Plumlee (he of the 43 percent free throw percentage this season) hitting two crunch-time free throws, Andre Drummond getting two easy shots at the rim, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope burying a wide-open three-pointer after the Nets forgot to switch a screen, Kevin Garnett missing two free throws, Josh Smith retaliating with two missed free throws of his own, then Garnett hitting two free throws to redeem himself and close the game.

Garnett was beside himself over those missed free throws. “You know what’s crazy? I walked Mase (Plumlee), kind of walked him through, getting him to calm, be calm at the line, and then (I) stepped up and did the very opposite of the advice of which I gave him,” Garnett said with a laugh. But I got the rebound, and if you notice on the rebound, it was a very determined rebound, just to clean myself up or to rejuvenate myself, and I knocked the other two down.”

“But if I didn’t get that chance, I — it’s already going to be a long night anyway, because I’m going to watch tape and just review myself, but it would’ve been a really, really long night if I didn’t come back and get another chance at it.”

Undefeated update: The Nets are undefeated against the Pistons.

Game Grades: Read ’em here.

History In The First Half: For a couple of minutes in the second quarter, the Nets played this super-small lineup: Jarrett Jack, Alan Anderson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Johnson, and Jerome Jordan.

Normally a four-wide lineup with only one starter isn’t much cause for concern at the NBA level, but this one was a bit different. Look at those names again: every player has a double initial. JJ, AA, BB, JJ, JJ.

I’m not sure anyone knows if this is the first time in NBA history that’s happened, and I’m sure someone will find an earlier instance. But until then, I’m just going to pretend believe it was the first time in NBA history.

Deron Williams Bow Tie Update: Blue, dotted.

Deron Williams Bow Tie vs. Pistons
Hey, if you’re not able to play, at least sit in style.

Did The Brooklyn Nets Celebrate Jewish Heritage Night With A Menorah Made Of Basketballs? Yes, the Brooklyn Nets celebrated Jewish Heritage Night with a menorah made of basketballs.
My Video Screen Shot 12_21_14, 6.36 PM

Just some numbers:
Jarrett Jack, 12/21: 37 minutes, 15 points, 7-14 FG, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, +7.
Deron Williams, per game: 34.5 minutes, 15.6 points, 5.1-12.7 FG, 6.8 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.6 turnovers, -1.0.

Just an alley-oop:

I already espoused about Darius Morris’s great fourth-quarter stretch in our at-the-buzzer game grades, so go check those out if you want to see more on Morris.

Plumdoggin’: Mason Plumlee continued an excellent stretch after his rough start to the season, finishing the night with 21 points on 9-10 shooting and adding 12 rebounds. Yes, he was overshadowed on the glass by Andre Drummond, but Plumlee played to his limited strengths once again by keeping it simple: run to the rim, attack the glass, look for alley-oop opportunities, and block shots by smaller opponents in the lane.

Plumlee even expanded a bit to include his post-up game on a few possessions, but didn’t want to use it as a crutch. “I think some of the highest-percentage shots are when the ball’s inside and then you kick it out,” Plumlee said. “I’m not an analytics guy, but if I had to guess, having the ball come inside out, guys have their feet set — like Joe (Johnson) hit a three, I know KG hit one coming out. Those are great shots. You know the post-up isn’t always just to take a shot, it’s to get other people open too.”

Thanks for the help defense, Andre Drummond:

Drummond is literally looking in the other direction as the single most obvious play happens to his right.

To be clear, he was by no means “bad” tonight; Drummond compiled 13 offensive rebounds and 18 points in a thorough abuse of Brooklyn’s interior, getting easy second-chance points and shots at the rim as the Nets lead fell apart in the fourth quarter. But the Pistons struggled to defend the simplest of pick-and-rolls, and putting Drummond in that blender was a major factor.

This is what it looks like to get hit in the face by an NBA player:

Unfortunate for Joe Johnson, who was hit by an inadvertent finger to the eye in the third quarter. He went to the locker room and sat for the remainder of the period, before coming out for the fourth. After the game he said he was fine.

Stan Van Gundy Grumpy Update: Grumpster. (via AP)

Across the river: The New York Knicks lost to the division-leading Toronto Raptors, 118-108. A sore Carmelo Anthony played 38 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back. They are now 5-25.

Next up: The Nets continue their homestand Tuesday night against the 12-15 Denver Nuggets at Barclays Center.