Spurs 106, Nets 96: Not Bad, Not Bad At All

Deron Williams
A valiant first effort.

Box Score48 Minutes of HellPounding The Rock

In a game that was supposed to be about the brand new point guard, the Nets made it about much more – and even in a loss, they showed the Spurs (and the NBA) that they’re capable of competing with some of the best in the NBA. This 106-96 loss – which was as close as seven late in the final period – was light-years from the 102-85 drubbing that the Nets took on the chin from this same team almost two weeks ago. While it’s a sign that they have a long way to go, it’s similarly a sign of how far they’ve come with just one move.

Look, the Spurs are a great team. They’re awesome.They don’t have the best record in the league by accident. There’s no way around that. They’ve got one of the top ten players in NBA history and two other Hall of Famers in their lineup. One of those guys – Manu Ginobili – absolutely tore the Nets interior defense apart. He had the full arsenal out last night – head fakes, eurosteps, crafty maneuvers, he had it all. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were also on their games: Parker often found Duncan open under the rim for easy dunks, and DeJuan Blair absolutely tore up the first quarter.

But if you’re reading this, those aren’t the stars you’re interested in.

If a ten-point loss could be proof of anything, it’s that Deron Williams finally gives the Nets someone they can count on in crunch time. With the Nets down 15 and seemingly out of the game, Deron put together a string of possessions that led to great shots. On one occasion, he found himself isolated on Tim Duncan, toyed with him a little, and hit a stepback 22-footer that Duncan could not do anything about. On the subsequent two possessions, Deron made two absolutely beautiful moves to the basket, and the Nets couldn’t capitalize – Brook Lopez missed an alley-oop on the first and Deron couldn’t finish a layup on the second. But without Deron Williams, this deficit becomes 25 points fast. He single-handedly turned what could have been a disaster into a close game. He finished with a rather underwhelming double-double – 14 points and 12 assists that could have easily been 20 and 17 if not for some bad luck. He instantly brought a new dynamic to the game.

The Nets were up 54-53 at the half, and some narrative will say that the catalyst Deron is the reason. They’re partly right. His presence on the court makes the game easier for everyone around him, and thus every time he steps on the court he deserves credit for open shots and smart play sets. But let the record show that Anthony Morrow found a fire flower in the first half last night. Morrow scored 16 points on just five shots, including a three-pointer and-one. Without Morrow’s production, the Nets aren’t in this game in the first half, and thus aren’t in this game, period. Morrow finished with 25 points and 5 rebounds on just 11 shots, and although he didn’t make a three in the second half he increased his lead on Steve Kerr for the all-time percentage record.

Which brings up a question: Why didn’t Anthony Morrow start? Was there any reason? I know Prokhorov was in the building and Morrow plays as well on defense as I would in an NBA game, but Morrow is clearly the superior player at shooting guard. He scored 25 off the bench, and most of his shots were in rhythm. (It didn’t hurt that he was fouled on three-pointers three times.) Why bring him off the bench? It’s not like his spark is limited to being a backup, like a Ben Gordon or something. He can always shoot.

Morrow is a downgrade defensively, but not by much. So, unfortunately, the Nets fell prey to the same thing that’s hurt them all season: on defense, they failed to rotate effectively on defense and gave up open shot after open shot. Whether they were three-pointers by George Hill or those Duncan dunks, the Nets were just a step behind the best team in the NBA. However, unlike last week, it was just a step. And that’s something to look forward to.

More thoughts after the jump.

Dan Gadzuric and Brandan Wright joined the team today as well. Wright was inactive and Gadzuric didn’t play. No idea if this is an indicator for the future, but neither guy was supposed to be a big part of the rotation anyway. Still, I’d like to see Wright get some time – what’s the worst that could happen?

Two guys walk into a bar. Johan Petro.

A priest, a rabbi, and a nun meet at a convention. Travis Outlaw.

Four Nets players took thirteen field goals each last night – Deron, Brook, Outlaw, and Humphries. This doesn’t make sense already, and is only exacerbated when you look at the playing time for each: 41 minutes for Deron, 37 for Brook, and 23 apiece for Outlaw and Humphries. That’s over a shot every two minutes for each of them. I get that D-Will was trying to distribute a lot last night, but this just does not compute, especially when you consider that Anthony Morrow nearly set San Antonio on fire last night.