Quick Points Key to Nets Success

Brook Lopez, Amir Johnson

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — #Undefeatedin2013 is the new mantra here in Brooklyn, as the Brooklyn Nets win their seventh straight game and open the new year 6-0 with a 113-106 victory over the Toronto Raptors, in Brooklyn at Barclays Center AKA The Black House.

The Nets unleashed a somewhat new brand of offense tonight, eschewing their usual half-court style for more deliberate possessions, more looks earlier in the shot clock, and more of a desire to push the ball down Toronto’s defense. Though the exact pace number won’t show it — the Nets played an estimated 91 possessions tonight, barely above their season average — the team played well above their season average in the first half before slowing it down a bit in the second.

The team, which currently ranks 29th out of 30 NBA teams in pace (only the New Orleans Hornets play a slower game), gave a universal response: faster, though not rushed, works for them.

“That pace is important for us,” Coach P.J. Carlesimo said after the game to a larger-than-usual flood of post-game reporters. “I don’t want to run up and down and shoot it quickly every time, but we need to get the easy baskets, we need to get our bigs running.”

One component that altered the Nets’ strategy: the Raptors scratched athletic starting center Amir Johnson from the lineup shortly before tipoff, and with the slower Aaron Gray starting in his place, Lopez wanted to take advantage.

“Aaron doesn’t get down the floor as fast as a guy like Amir,” an out-of-breath Lopez said after the game. “Amir’s going to be running the floor, really crashing the glass hard and playing athletically. Aaron’s more methodical. So we had to be ready for whoever was in, and adjust to whoever they play.”

Prior to tonight’s game, the Nets averaged 9.4 fast-break points per game on the season, third-to-last in the NBA in that category. Not so under P.J. Carlesimo; in the past four games, the Nets have averaged 15.5 fast-break points per game, picking up 18 tonight on 7-9 shooting in transition. This included some of the most beautiful Brooklyn Nets basketball of the year.

Or, to put it in simpler terms: the Nets scored about eight more points on the break than their season average, in a game they won by seven points.

Faster doesn’t always mean fast break, though. “Tonight we thought it was important to get it ahead to Joe (Johnson),” Carlesimo added. “Some of the plays weren’t fast breaks … but we threw it ahead sometimes and Joe was able to go one on one against his man. We consider that phase one. We just got the ball up the court and that was as good as any offense we were running. Joe had the ball, one guy playing him, and he was able to go in and overpower the guy. Deron did the same thing a couple times.”

“I think we need to get out and run more,” added Deron Williams, unironically wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘RUNNING SUCKS.’ on the front. “I think we’ve done that in this winning streak, and it’s made us successful. It gets us going a little bit more, but the key to that is getting stops. When we get stops, we can get out and run more.”

While Williams — who finished the game with 21 points, seven assists, and a game-high +17 in 43 minutes — contends that the defense leads to the offense, there’s no question that he is the catalyst for this team’s speedy success.

“Whenever Deron’s getting it, pushing it, we’re an up-tempo team,” backup wing Keith Bogans said. “I think that’s what works best. We can slow it down, get it to Brook in the middle, or (Deron) can push the ball and we can get out, and he can get to the cup and we spot-up around the perimeter. So it’s either way.”

Under Carlesimo, the Nets are playing a slightly faster pace and, perhaps not coincidentally, are also getting stops. Though they didn’t get many stops against Toronto — they allowed the Raptors to shoot 49% from the field, 54% from deep, and 83% on 23 free throws — they got enough to piece together a second-half double-digit lead, that they did not relinquish.

Even considering tonight’s lackluster defensive effort, the team has allowed 101.7 points per 100 possessions under Carlesimo’s coaching, 10th-best in the NBA in that time. They also lay claim to the best net rating in the Eastern Conference during that time, at +9.5 points per 100 possessions.