Round two looked a lot like round one.
Both the Heat and the Nets are brand-new teams looking to construct their identities. The Nets are future-oriented – young, developing, talented players who the front office is hoping will be able to experience a Celtic-like synergy two or three years down the road. The Heat, though, are about the now: they’ve got three great players who are looking to win five consecutive championships together, starting this year. The Nets were just another victim of this identity beginning to take shape: the Heat essentially showed off for 48 minutes last night, taking just enough time in the second and third quarters to build a lead necessary for victory. While the final score indicates a relatively close game – 101-89 isn’t too bad, all things considered – the score does not indicate the massive gulf between these two teams.
If there was one thing that was evident early, it’s that the Nets did not want to be an afterthought. The intensity was there on both sides of the floor – even if athletically the Nets just can’t compete with Miami, they were working to ensure that they were on every loose ball, boxing out hard, and trying to find the best shot every trip up the floor. Anthony Morrow was gunning (finally, since that’s his job), Lopez dominated Joel Anthony with three shots in the post early in the quarter, and Morrow also got a couple of nice steals (including one where he ripped off a LeBron James pass and drove the length of the floor for a layup and-1). Morrow was the silver lining in last night’s dark cloud; he scored 19 points in the first half on 7-10 shooting and finished the night with 25.
Matt Moore (of Hardwood Paroxysm) put it eloquently on Twitter: the Heat were trying to look pretty, the Nets were trying to win. And it’s true. Dwyane Wade tried to pull off a reverse dunk in traffic, only to be sent back by Kris Humphries. LeBron James missed a wide-open alley-oop. The problem with the Heat, though, is that most of their pretty plays work. LeBron came back with a dunk on the next possession, and Wade had a particularly nice behind-the-back dribble move into a layup soon after. Unfortunately for New Jersey, Miami’s style can still hang with most of the league’s substance, and after one period the Nets were only ahead by 1, 25-24.
In that first period, the Nets had more offensive rebounds, assists, steals, and fewer turnovers than the Heat. They were certainly executing their offense more effectively. That doesn’t matter, though; Miami is just so talented that they’ll find points in places where no other team could. Many of Miami’s shots came at the rim (more on this after the jump), where the Nets have generally been solid defenders this year (as mentioned in the pregame thread, the Nets before this game were 5th in the NBA at opponent FG% at the rim). I assume that’s just the Miami effect – they dictate on both sides of the floor, and frankly the Nets looked scared. Either way, it was strange – despite the Heat’s seemingly insurmountable talent advantage, I felt like the Nets should have been winning by more than just one point after that first period.
The second quarter began the same way – the Nets were just outhustling the Heat. One play, we saw Derrick Favors snare an offensive rebound away from Big Z & miss the putback, only for Brook Lopez to clean up the mess. Another saw the Nets run back on D ahead of every Heat player, changing what would have been a one-man LeBron fast break into a turnover. Then, Anthony Morrow blocked – yes, blocked – a Dwyane Wade shot, leading to a Travis Outlaw dunk in transition.
However, at about the five-minute mark of the second quarter – about the time LeBron James returned to the game – the momentum shifted. The Nets suddenly stopped running for loose balls as quickly, instead playing back on their heels. Wade blocked a Lopez dunk attempt. (That sounds familiar.) LeBron then found Haslem for a layup. He then stole a pass and finished with a two-hand windmill in the open court – possibly his best dunk as a Miami player yet. He then found Chris Bosh & Dwyane Wade for dunks, Wade’s on a behind-the-back pass in transition. It was the LeBron James Show, with a pretty solid cast of characters. The Heat went on an 18-5 run in this span, pushing their lead to nine. However, the Nets still found a way to close the half well: defensively they switched to a 2-3 to stymie the Heat’s slashing style, & offensively they got a huge dunk from Favors and a Morrow three off a nice Terrence Williams dish. After a Globetrotter-esque first half from the Heat, they still only led by 4, 55-51.
Third-quarter adjustments have been an issue for the Nets in the past few years, and while it’ s been an occasional problem so far early on I’m hoping that they’ve been left in the past with the old regime. The first positive adjustment that the Nets made was sticking with that 2-3 zone. The idea is to force the opposition into shooting jumpers instead of driving the lane, and it worked – the Heat’s first six attempts in the quarter were jumpers, and they only made one of them (Chris Bosh drew a foul on another). However, the Nets unfortunately seemed content with shooting midrange jumpers as well (see more on this after the jump) with a couple of exceptions, and as a result failed to make any real dent in the lead.
It doesn’t help that as the quarter progressed that the Heat (or, I should say, the big 3) were able to find multiple shots at the rim of the “Holy Miami” variety: circus layups, alley-oops, and ferocious slams, including a monster dunk by Chris Bosh over Brook Lopez. It was another prime example of the Miami Heat Extravaganza, and the Nets were only as relevant as the defender on a poster. What started as a one-point lead in the first turned into a 19-point deficit after 3. All in all, the Nets were outscored 32-17 in the third quarter, but I don’t think it was an issue of adjustment. I think it was just the Heat synergy finally working. They showed off precisely why they’re possibly the best team in the NBA in that third period, capped with a ridiculous fallaway three from about 28 feet at the buzzer from LeBron James. I mean, you can’t defend that. You just can’t.
All in all, I don’t think much was proven last night. The Nets hung around for a half with what’s possibly the best team in basketball, but couldn’t sustain that momentum over 48 minutes. That’s not surprising. The Heat had three players with over 20 points – guess who – and no one else in double figures, but against a team like New Jersey that’s all they needed. Nothing earth-shattering. They’re starting to shape their identity more and more as the big 3 begin to synergize. Thankfully, the Nets don’t face off against Miami again until April 3rd – I’m sure they’ll be happy to see LeBron’s old team in a home-and-home Tuesday and Wednesday night.
More thoughts after the jump.
Anthony Morrow was the sole bright spot for the Nets last night. My guess is that Avery yelled at him to shoot the damn ball, and that wake-up call led to 25 points on an efficient 10-17 shooting performance (4-7 from beyond the arc). However, what was more surprising (and just as impressive) were his seven rebounds and three steals. He looked far more active than in any game thus far, and hopefully he can keep that activity level up.
Fun with numbers: the Nets shot 11-21 (52.7%) at the rim, exactly Miami’s opponent average thus far this year. The Heat? 14-17 at the rim (82.7%), and every shot at the rim was from one of the big 3. Overall the Nets allowed 46 points in the paint, more than Miami has scored in any game this season.
More fun with shot locations: it’s a commonly accepted fact that the most inefficient shot in the floor is the 16-23 2-point jumper – they’re as far as you can get from the rim without getting an extra point, and they rarely draw fouls. Well, last night the Nets jacked up more long twos than from anywhere else on the floor – 22 to be exact – and only made five of them. If you’re going to beat the Heat, you’ve got to take smarter shots as a team – as long as you’re 22 feet away, take that extra step back and try to make it three.
I don’t know what to say about Brook Lopez. He started this game with ferocity, scoring on Joel Anthony at will three times in the first three minutes. He looked prime for another 25+ game. But soon he began doing everything that’s frustrating to watch: forcing his way through double teams, posting up from 16 feet and beyond, not hustling for rebounds, and taking long jumpers – Lopez shot 0-4 from that 16-23 range. He finished with a meager 12 points on 5-16 shooting. There were some occasions where I felt Brook was fouled and didn’t get a call, but that’s not enough of an excuse to slack off. He is still our cornerstone, our franchise player, but it’s hard not to be let down by this performance.
Also: Dwyane Wade loves blocking Lopez’s shots. He did it for the third time in his career last night, sending back a dunk attempt with two hands.
Terrence Williams was extremely active throughout the game and overall had a decent performance, but he remains an enigma. Sometimes he’ll wow you with his court vision. In the second quarter, he fired a pass to Jordan Farmar wide open in the left corner that I think even surprised Farmar. Other times, he’ll make awful decisions that lead to turnovers – like driving directly into the defense on a fast break, not look to dish to any of his open teammates, and give the ball right back. I can’t say enough how gorgeous his shot form is – it’s almost picture-perfect. But frankly many of his decisions are, in a word, embarrassing. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t recognize the flagrant foul he gave LeBron James late in the game – I personally did not think the contact warranted a flagrant, and that LeBron more or less ran into the stands & malingered a bit to get the call. Miami fans were noticeably upset with Terrence, booing him soundly for the remainder of the game. What was lost in this (that I highly appreciated) was that Terrence ran full-force to stop the one-man fast break of LeBron James and prevent yet another Miami highlight. His defensive effort deserves recognition.
I’m going to give as much effort analyzing Devin Harris’s performance as he gave on the floor last night.
Derrick Favors continues to show off his talents. Although he wasn’t a major factor, he was the only player other than Morrow or Lopez to score in double-figures with 11 points. Most of those were of the dunk variety. The guy can flat-out slam and is scoring ten-plus points per game without having a single play called for him. His future is scary good. I also appreciate Avery keeping him in at the end of the game, giving him some extra minutes to season against Miami’s second unit. The negatives? Foul trouble – he gets caught out of position often which leads to dumb fouls – and he only had five rebounds in 28 minutes. Considering that the last time the Nets played Miami he had ten offensive rebounds in less time, that’s a bit of a letdown.
I’ll end on this note: the Heat are the best defensive team in the NBA so far. Statistically, this is a fact. They’ve allowed fewer points per 100 possessions than any other team in basketball. But aside from Anthony Morrow, the Nets shot just 36.7% from the floor last night, and the starters an even worse 29.7%. That’s just terrible, no matter who you’re facing. Certainly a forgettable performance, and one I don’t expect a repeat of.