With the NBA All-Star Break, snow mishaps, and various scheduling kinks getting in the way, by my count, this is the first time I’ve done the game grades since the Brooklyn Nets’ close-but-no-cigar effort against the Washington Wizards back on February 8th. So, after 17 days, the natural inclination is to make a big splash upon my return — does the occasion call for poems? Themed grades?
Perhaps a live journal?
Well, it turns out that there’s no hiding behind bells and whistles against the Golden State Warriors.
To their credit, the Nets actually responded to the Warriors’ world-beating form in the first quarter, for the most part. After a rare Stephen Curry airball, the Dubs put on a clinic from behind the arc and JaVale McGee tormented those poor rebounding Nets like he had a grudge to disprove. Even with Kevin Durant out, there was little reason to believe that the Nets would keep this competitive at the Oracle Arena — but, hey, that’s why the games aren’t played on paper, right?
Thanks to the continuously inspired play from Spencer Dinwiddie, now at home in the more comfortable backup role, the Nets found themselves down just 32-28 after the first quarter. Curry, without lifting much more than a few fingers, filled up the box score with 12 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds, while the Nets’ play managed to spurn this conversation from the Warriors’ broadcast team.
“So many teams want to walk it up against the Warriors, but the Nets are bringing it!” “They’re fearless!”
In a spirited effort that far surpassed any stretch from last night’s atrocity against the Denver Nuggets, the Nets actually took the lead briefly in the second quarter — taking punch after punch with a seamless grace the team typically crumbles against. Leading the charge was an aggressive Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who scored 10 first half points, highlighted by a one-man fast break in which he took on three Warriors in transition, twisting and contorting his way to the rim.
Although the Warriors would end the half on 10-0 run that was capped off by a buzzer-beating Curry four-point play — don’t worry, Spencer, it happens to the best of us — it was hard to shake the feeling that this was one of the best halves of the entire season.
Oh, and Brook Lopez didn’t score a single point in the first half.
Alas, the second half quickly devolved into one of the runaway performances we’re accustomed to against the Western Conference elites, but that doesn’t bother me at all. Sports movies will tell you that if you work hard, great things will happen. Sure, as a blanket statement, that cliche tends to be right more often than not — but what Disney’s 1995 classic The Big Green won’t tell you is that for every Evan Schiff there was a Juan Morales to clean up the mess.
For every Jefferson Albert Tibbs, there’s a Miles Pennfield II to clean up the mess while grooving to The Notorious B.I.G.’s Big Poppa.
And cliches aside, when Lopez has this poor of a night, there’s pretty much no coming back from that, especially against the Warriors. Aside from a few fleeting minutes in the late fourth quarter where the Nets cut it down to within 8 points, the Warriors had little problem holding off the NBA’s worst team throughout the final frames.
On Twitter, I get the sense that the faithful are growing tired of nights like these, but these growing pains are to be endured, not shamed. The Nets played one of the best 24-minute stretches of their entire 2016-2017 season and they still found themselves down by 11 at halftime.
The point is this: passion and effort are fantastic building blocks and traits for this franchise — but since this isn’t a kids movie and Kenny Atkinson isn’t Keanu Reeves, unfortunately, the gulf in skill is too much to overcome against most of the 28 other NBA teams, much less the back-to-back-to-back finalists.
So, the moral of the story tonight?
Give ’em a break.
In time, the Nets will have their own G-Baby moment (RIP) — until then, however, results like this are to be expected but, thankfully, there continue to be signs of life from your gritty, lovable, and hard-working Nets.
And on nights like these, that’s more than enough for me.
The stats: 16 PTS, 6-13 FG, 10 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1 TOV
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played like a man on a mission over the first 24 minutes — relentlessly attacking the hoop and only taking a few ill-advised three-pointers. If he ever wants to take the next step, he’ll have to start hitting from distance more often, but, for now, I’m more than happy to root for an aggressive, hard-nosed Hollis-Jefferson all the same.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) February 26, 2017
For some, they were ready to jump ship on the athletic forward — but with the Nets in their current situation, there’s more than enough time for Hollis-Jefferson to evolve, just give him a chance.
The stats: 9 PTS, 3-13 FG, 4 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 4 TOV
Per the YES Network’s Jeff Quagliata, that was just the fourth time in his career as a starter that Brook Lopez went scoreless in the first half. So, for a man looking to hit 10,000 career points — just 19 away — his scoreless half hurt in more places than just the scoreboard.
Lopez missed a couple of good-look three-pointers, but really struggled to handle JaVale McGee on the glass, something that let the Warrior keep their finger on the pulse for most of the game.
It happens to everybody and, against the Warriors, there’s particularly no reason to lose sleep over it — but the franchise center will definitely feel this one into Wednesday’s game against the Kings.
The stats: 13 PTS, 4-6 FG, 5 REB, 5 AST, 0 TOV
We’ll take a nice and orderly line up in front to apologize to Spencer Dinwiddie, who has transformed himself into a very capable point guard in the month of February. No longer is he plagued by silly turnovers and his three-point shooting has bordered on reliable as of late. Against the Warriors, he finished with the prowess of Dr. J on a pretty up-and-under layup and then bombed away at a distance this arena is only comfortable identifying as “Stephen Curry range.”
Now that Yogimania is over, for the time being, it’s not tough to see the intangibles and skills that made Kenny Atkinson cut ties with the D-League flavor of the week.
Another game, another zero turnover effort.
Start believing in the Spensation, folks.
The stats: 8 PTS, 3-7 FG, 1 REB, 1 AST, 2 STL, 2 BLK, 2 TOV
We’re going to need a nickname for Joe Harris sooner rather than later, right?