The Struggles Continue: Nets’ 4th Quarter Woes, Part II

(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

The Struggles Continue: Nets’ 4th Quarter Woes, Part II

The Brooklyn Nets face new struggles every game. Just a few days ago, I documented two games where the Nets had victory slip away from them. But now, The Struggles Strike Back (Again.) This past week, in particular, Nets fans have gone through an emotional roller coaster gauntlet. In games against the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, and New York Knicks, the Nets again fought, but ultimately lost due to poor fourth quarter execution. The script seems already written in fourth quarters of Nets games.

It’s gotten so predictable at times that it seems as if the script is already written for every fourth quarter.

Let’s take a look at two recent Nets games against the Heat and Pacers. These two games were mostly lost on the offensive end, as the Nets were actually able to get stops on the defensive end. Poor decision-making and shot selection filled the Nets’ late-game execution. Kenny Atkinson has used different lineups in crunch time, but each combination has produced close to the same results. Even with different personnel, the same issues persisted.

Cue the video!

Brooklyn Nets vs. Miami Heat
Final score: Nets 96, Heat 104

The Nets were matched up with the hot, hot Heat for the second time in a week. Even better, they held a lead in the first half, but the Heat responded at the end of the second quarter with a strong run. Miami extended their lead in the third, but the Nets were able to claw back in the fourth quarter — we kept that vague because you could submit any team for the Heat and it would make loads of sense in any context. We pick it up with five minutes left in the fourth quarter and the score is 88-95, with Brooklyn trying to make a comeback.

Trevor Booker is at the free throw line and then craziness ensues:

The Nets get two offensive rebounds in the same possession. Booker throws down an emphatic tip slam, energizing the team and bringing the deficit to just 5. Next, the visitors get a stop on the defensive end and look to make it a one-possession game:

The Nets slow it down here with Isaiah Whitehead as the lead ballhandler. After a couple of seconds, Booker sets a screen for Whitehead, who pulls up from three — but the former is called for an illegal screen. Off-ball, of course, there was no movement. The initial action seemed to be for a Brook Lopez post up, but Willie Reed digs into the former All-Star and denies him the ball.

After a good defensive stand and another Miami miss, the score is still 90-95:

The Nets swing the ball with Bojan Bogdanovic feeding Lopez with a good position in the post. Again, Reed seemingly morphs into Bill Russell when he faces his former teammate because why not? Lopez turns over his shoulder and takes a righty hook… which he airballs. Sigh, back to the drawing board.

Following that, they, somehow, stand court and have another good defensive stand, blocking a Goran Dragic layup. The score is still 90-95 and the Nets were able to successfully string three good defensive possessions in a row. And yet…

The Nets run the fast break after the block on Dragic, where Whitehead probes and passes it to Lopez, who is trailing the play. Lopez catches the ball two steps behind the three-point line and shoots a three with 17 seconds left in the shot clock — another airball. On the next defensive possession, Reed scores off of a drive, bringing the lead to 90-97 with 3 minutes left in the game.

Kenny Atkinson is forced to call a timeout.

Out of the timeout, Trevor Booker brings the ball up the floor. Lopez and Booker set strong screens to line Caris LeVert up for a midrange jumper in rhythm. The shot goes in and out, but Lopez taps the rebound to LeVert, who tosses it to Whitehead on the perimeter. The Nets dribble and move really well here, with four players touching the ball.

Trevor Booker gets a good luck at the dunk and is fouled. Booker splits the free throws. The score is 91-97.

Out of another timeout, and a considerable amount of Heat buckets, Atkinson draws up a play for Bogdanovic. The Nets run a really interesting sideline variation of elevator doors, with Booker and Lopez. Booker hip checks Bojan’s defender Rodney McGruder on the cut and gets called, of course, for the illegal screen.

Unfortunately, Bogdanovic would have been open even without the illegal contact. After the turnover, Miami extends its lead with too little time for a Nets rally.

The Nets scored only 5 points in four and a half minutes in the fourth quarter — yup. The team played great defense down the stretch, getting consecutive stops and frustrated the talented scoring duo of Waiters and Dragic, but it was the offense that disappointed. It’s important to note that the Heat have the highest fourth quarter defensive rating in the NBA and yet, you’ve got to take better care of the ball — committing three turnovers in that 5-minute stretch, two on illegal screens and one on an intercepted pass.

It’s also revealing that the Nets were in the bonus after the Trevor Booker putback dunk. The Nets failed to capitalize on strong defensive stops and wound up losing a winnable game by really failing to get back to the free throw line.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Indiana Pacers 
Final score: Nets 97, Pacers 106

In a game where the Nets looked overmatched over the first three quarters (a common theme), they made a run during the fourth that was entirely led by their bench. Quincy Acy was inserted into the game at the end of the third and the game changed with his hustle and shooting. To set the scene here, the score is 88-87 and the Nets are down 1 point, just after grabbing the lead for the first time.

Out of a pick and roll, Booker receives a pass and ambles to the rim. He jumps and Monta Ellis makes a good play on the ball, tipping Booker’s pass and forcing a turnover. Good idea, but Ellis recognized the non-threat of Spencer Dinwiddie as a shooter and protected the paint.

Next, Acy blocks a Jeff Teague layup and the Nets get out on the fast break. LeVert speeds down the floor and finds Dinwiddie right at the rim. Dinwiddie hesitates — an issue we’ve seen before from him — and doesn’t take the layup, fearing a block from behind. He dribbles it out to set the offense, leading to a missed Acy three-point shot. The Nets had a fast break opportunity but the hesitation allowed the defense to recover and set up.

Randy Foye tries to initiate a two-man game with Lopez headed to the rim, but the Pacers defense does a good job at denying the center in the paint. Foye looks elsewhere, swinging it to Quincy Acy and the ball ends up with LeVert for a drive. The Nets did a good job of swinging and reacting to the defense, but they were unable to come away with a basket.

On their first well-executed play in a few minutes, the Nets generate an easy bucket. Out of the inbounds play, the Nets get Caris LeVert (the inbounder) a dunk down off of a down screen. It’s almost a flipped-over version of the play the Nets run to initiate their usual offense. The Nets are now down 3 points with around three minutes left — but, like a bad movie, you know where this is headed next.

Off of a slipped screen, Sean Kilpatrick tries to laser a pass to the cutting Lopez, but the latter doesn’t have go-go gadget arms so the ball is turned over. The Nets are able to keep up with Indiana, however, scoring on Acy free throws and later through a Kilpatrick drive. But the damming play is still yet to come:

If you were watching the YES Network feed of this game, you could hear Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel losing it over this play. Off of a Sean Kilpatrick drive, a mismatch is caused with Teague on Lopez. Kilpatrick fumbles a little bit and makes things more difficult for himself by backing out. All the while, Lopez is calling for the ball, but Kilpatrick loses the angle and opts to swing the ball.

You can hear Spanarkel break down the play from an alternate angle here:

At that point, there was too little time for the Nets to come back — but you already knew that.

Will it get better?

It’s been said numerous times: the Nets fight and compete in games where they shouldn’t. But still, the effort hasn’t translated to wins, with the team still stuck on single-digit wins. At this rate, this may turn into a weekly post, given that the Nets’ fourth quarter struggles have no end in sight. 

It’s been a common occurrence this season. The Nets go down big, they come back later, but they ultimately lose. It’s great to see the Nets fighting, but it’s deflating to see the opponent take control down the stretch over and over again. More glimmer of hope from losses will come, for sure. With positive plays like LeVert’s choreographed dunk, there are reasons to believe that this will get better down the stretch — but, unlike at the beginning of the year, it’s strange to see the Nets’ offense letting them down, not the defense.