The Nets had a 12-point lead in the first half, held the Pacers to 40 points in the first half but couldn’t hold on and lost by four to Indiana. There were major stretches in this game when the Nets played well and Sundiata Gaines continues to be a positive for this team, but despite an inspired late performance to cut the lead to two, they could not complete the comeback.
The Nets got off to a solid start by getting Brook Lopez some open looks, which he was able to drain. But after hitting his first three shots, he missed his last four and was under 50 percent in the opening quarter. Before the game, I said that keeping the Pacers’ field goal percentage down was a key and at least early on, the Nets did that. Indiana shot a miserable 33.3 percent in the first quarter, but the Nets were only at a 39.1 percent clip and had a 19-15 lead after a sloppy first period.
Let me touch on Brandan Wright for a moment here. He is clearly a guy that came out of UNC too early and has failed to show he can consistently produce in the NBA. But as “The Bird” Ian Eagle said during last night’s broadcast, he will get his opportunity over the Nets final games of the season. As a big man who’s 6’10 and can run the floor, he should be able to find a home in this league. But his problem has been strength and he still has the same wiry frame he had in college. Last night he did show some aggressiveness with some post-up jumpers and an attempt at a thunderous dunk in transition, but he finished with just 2 points and 4 boards in 8 minutes.
The bench got the second quarter off to a great start with a 12-4 run in the first four minutes to push the Nets lead out to 12, and it was all keyed by Gaines. He got a well deserved contract the other day and he continues to make shots and give the Nets second unit a spark. He hit two mid-range jumpers, made three free throws after being fouled while attempting a trey and finished with a career-high 18 points on the night. What was most notable about Gaines performance is that he was playing during crunch time, and not Jordan Farmar. Interesting, but the correct decision by Avery Johnson in this game.
The Nets only had a lead at halftime largely because the Pacers offense was flat-out awful in the first half (until the last 2:44 of the second quarter, when they scored 10 points to cut the Nets lead to four) . They turned it over 9 times, but upped their shooting percentage to 40.5 percent and scored 38 points in the game’s first 24 minutes. While they missed some makable shots (especially Danny Granger who was just 1-9) the Nets defense needs to be given some credit, especially considering the ease with which the Wizards and Bucks executed in the team’s previous two games.
There’s no need to continue repeating what we always say about Kris Humphries, but the rebounding machine had 10 boards in the first half and finished with 14 in the game. While he only scored 9 points, if he can continue to make the mid-range jumper, he will be even more of a force on the offensive end.
It was clear when the second half started that one team was still in the playoffs and fighting to keep their number-8 spot, and the other was 24 games under .500. The Pacers looked inspired as they went on a quick 9-0 run to build a 5-point lead, and got plenty of easy looks during their run. After that the game settled down over the next few minutes and saw one of the wildest sequences you will ever see in an NBA game. Tyler Hansbrough saved the ball towards half court, Stephen Graham took it right at Roy Hibbert’s chest and got denied and the Nets finally picked up the loose ball ending with a Humphries dunk. The entire building seemed to feed off of that and clearly liked the Nets effort. But after the dunk cut the Pacers lead to 55-53, Indiana went on an extended 14-8 run to end the third quarter with an 8-point lead.
One of the main issues the Nets had last night was the lack of a consistent scorer. I was concerned that Brook Lopez’s production would decrease without Deron Williams in the lineup and it did to some extent against the Pacers. The Nets center did have 20 points but on 9-20 shooting and did not seem like he was in the flow of the offense after the first few minutes. Although the Nets had seven guys that scored at least 7 points in a balanced attack, they lacked a go-to-guy and only scored in the mid-90s because of some late three-pointers.
While the Nets defense was strong in the first half, the Pacers scored 60 second-half points and ended up shooting nearly 50 percent in the game. But it was encouraging down the stretch to not see them quit and make a valiant effort at a comeback. After trailing by 11 with 2:24 remaining, the Nets cut the Pacers lead to 3 on a Sundiata Gaines (who was injured and on the floor for some time after the foul) free throw with 40 second remaining. Sasha Vujacic was a key contributor to that run as he made 3 three-pointers (one of which was definitely a two) and really kept the Nets in the game.
But despite the valiant effort from “The Machine” and the Nets, they came up on the short end of a 102-98 loss. That makes seven in a row to the Pacers (correction from the pregame thread) and the team now heads to the road for three straight, starting with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.