The Brooklyn Nets are not a great basketball team, let’s make that much clear.
There’s a huge gulf in talent between the Nets and most foes on any given night, even deeper when they’re missing Jeremy Lin as well. But there’s also some major credit to be given here too: head coach Kenny Atkinson has them working hard from start to finish and shooting three-pointers at the third-highest total in the league.
But, until now, the Nets hadn’t gone toe-to-toe with another MVP candidate and, without their starting point guard, the ingredients for a potential disaster were certainly in the cards. Russell Westbrook, budding fashion designer and forever scorned by Kevin Durant, is averaging a near triple-double this season and likely lives for opportunities like tonight.
Still clearly riding his high from his magical Disneyland adventure with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson mid-week, the nerdy center was electric from beyond the arc. As it were a dream straight out of my 2011 personal diary, Lopez went 4-5 from distance, which made YES Network’s Donny Marshall ask: does Brook like shooting three-pointers as much as he does raising his fingers afterwards?
If he hits them at that rate, Lopez can do whatever he damn pleases with his hands.
Elsewhere, Lopez’s range was infectious and Anthony Bennett, Joe Harris, and Justin Hamilton all pitched in to make the Nets’ red-hot quarter historic. Their 40-point explosion, per PR, was the most a Nets team had scored in any quarter against a Thunder/Sonics franchise in 85 tries.
Add that to an 8-10 effort from three-point land and the Nets would actually hold a 40-34 lead after one frame.
The second unit — Yogi Ferrell, Sean Kilpatrick, Anthony Bennett, Justin Hamilton, and Bojan Bogdanovic — played with some serious energy, forcing turnovers and, finally, got out in transition. In fact, Lopez was not even needed until the six-minute mark in 2nd quarter as the Nets ran up a lead as high as 10.
However, Westbrook would just not let it be as the All-Star flew cross-court at breakneck speeds before tossing aside all opposers (sorry, Yogi). His double-digit outpouring was impossible to stop and the Thunder quickly closed the gap as many Nets could do nothing but watch the show. At the half, Westbrook lead all scorers with 20 points and 8 assists, tipping the Thunder for a slim 64-61 advantage.
Randy Foye, who got the start over Kilpatrick and Whitehead, had just a tragic effort against his former squad, even airballing a five-footer as the Thunder pushed the lead to 10. Veteran presence and all is one thing, but he’ll have a short leash with supporters if this continues — each game reveals another reason why the Nets need Lin back as well, should you be in the business of silver linings.
And yet, it was much of the same in comparison to Tuesday night’s slip-up: for every Nets mini-run, the Thunder pushed right back. For now, they don’t have a scorer that can take over the game with ease and that’s always going to make even winning a quarter tough.
After getting outscored 32-21 in the third quarter, there was no looking back for the dominant Thunder and that was that. It may seem like a cop out, but these grades are likely to look familiar until Lin returns. Yeah, sometimes the Nets hit more three-pointers than they don’t. Sometimes they toss 15+ turnovers. And, of course, they always work hard… but without Lin, it just doesn’t matter.
As of now, the Nets, without Lin, seem like a mirage — optimistic at first, but ultimately not what you want to see towards the end.
Be our oasis, Jeremy, please.
The stats: 13 PTS, 3-14 FG, 5 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 2 TOV
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played hard, but he still leaves a bit to be desired around the rim.
About four sure-fire dunk attempts from the sophomore were, well, surprisingly short. Tired legs? Trying to do too much?
The only certainty that his 3-14 mark was a team-low percentage-wise.
The stats: 22 PTS, 8-16 FG, 4 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLK, 1 TOV
If Mikhail Prokhorov was smart — duh, he is, he’s a billionaire — then he’d build Brook Lopez his own Disneyland in Brooklyn.
Or a personal comic book store, I don’t know.
Either way, when Lopez is happy and firing away with confidence, he’s one of the league’s best players. Whether that’s tying his career-high in three-pointers in the first 9 minutes of the game or lengthening his franchise-record in blocked shots, Lopez continues to do new things each game.
Unfortunately, his touches ran dry in the second half and his big, early bonfire just turned out to a small zippo lighter.