Phoenix Suns 104, New Jersey Nets 103 (OT): Within A Fingertip

Kris Humphries Barely Misses The Buzzer
Kris Humphries just barely misses the buzzer.

Box ScoreValley Of The SunsBright Side Of The Sun

“What an entertaining first two quarters in New Jersey.” These words were uttered by Suns announcer Tom Leander near the end of the first half last night.

If only he knew what was in store.

After A wild final seventeen minutes that featured huge three-pointers on both sides, shocking five-second violations, and foul calls on impossible shots, Kris Humphries tipped in what would have been a game-winner just barely after the 0.0 light flashed, leaving Channing Frye’s three-pointer seconds earlier as the final points to give the Suns a 104-103 victory.

The Nets took the home floor with Deron Williams as their leader for the first time last night and delivered perhaps their most entertaining game of the season. Williams nearly had a double-double in the first half alone, picked up assist after assist down the stretch, and despite obviously feeling the effects of a wrist & hand injury, still led this team within a fingertip of victory.

The Nets played toe-to-toe with an above-.500 team for 53 minutes, and although they lost, that should give you an idea of where their talent level is.

They need to upgrade, but the pieces are there. They’ve got their unquestionable superstar (Deron Williams), who dished out 18 assists, tying his season high that he set just two days ago. They’ve got their low-post building block (Brook Lopez), who led the team with 28 points and picked up his fifth double-double of the season. They’ve got their tenacious rebounder/hustle guy/boyfriend of a famous woman (Kris Humphries), who led the game with 14 rebounds and was literally less than a tenth of a second late on a buzzer-beater.

And they’ve certainly got their three-point specialist. With the Nets down 92-87, Anthony Morrow scored all nine Nets points – two three-pointers and three ice-in-his-veins free throws – in the final 22 seconds of regulation to tie the game at 96 and send it to overtime. Morrow didn’t score in the extra period, but without him the Nets don’t make it there. He finished with 22 points and increased his career three-point percentage to .455081, extending his lead over Steve Kerr for the highest percentage of all time. His porous defense aside, $4 million per year for that is a pretty good deal.

Don’t get me wrong. All of these guys except Williams are assets as much as they are players, and they’re still missing some huge pieces (such as a wing who can create his own shot and any shred of a defensive interior presence). But the foundation they’re building on is a solid one, and this game is proof of that.

There’s no question about what Williams brings to the team. All of the Nets have been getting open looks constantly in these past three games with him on the floor, and Williams has gotten three double-doubles and 48(!) assists in his first three games. He also had 6 turnovers, but they reminded me of the turnovers LeBron James was giving up to start this year – he’s still getting acclimated to his surroundings, and similarly the surrounding players are getting acclimated to him. A few of his turnovers were passes to spaces where a Nets player was expected to fill a lane and wasn’t. These things will fix themselves with time & growth.

Although Morrow tweeted “no moral victories” shortly after the game, there’s a lot of good the Nets can take from last night. The crowd was rocking, the game was exciting, and the Nets looked completely different from the team that we saw last year – or even last week. As hard as it might be to see, this game was an excellent sign of things to come. They were less than a tenth of a second away from an exciting overtime victory. That’s something the Nets can hang their hat on.

More thoughts after the jump.

I know I mentioned four building blocks, but I need to add a fifth here. He wasn’t a huge part of this game, but I was very impressed with how the fifth starter – Damion James – moved and acted on the court. He was constantly diving for loose balls and always seemed to be the one hustling to make something happen. He’s going to be a sparkplug on a lot of important teams in his career, and I hope it’s with New Jersey.

Kris Humphries is going to get a lot of talk about that tip-in, but what will go under the radar is how terribly he played on the previous possession, misplaying a Marcin Gortat screen and allowing Frye to get open for the game-winning three. Actually, this is a systemic issue with the Nets: outside of Deron and Sasha Vujacic, no one really seems to know how to rotate defensively. The Nets got burned on pick & rolls between Steve Nash & Gortat all day, and then the Nets were clueless on how to deal with off-ball screens. However, it would be a mistake not to mention the best defensive possession of the night – forcing Grant Hill into being called for a five-second violation with the game on the line at the end of regulation.

What’s wild, though, is that the Nets played some awful defense and still almost beat an above-.500 team in a wildly exciting matchup. When they get connected on all cylinders, there’s going to be some very fun games in Newark.