The Chicago Bulls shot just 39.5% from the field and struggled throughout the game but it was still enough to get by the Nets today at the United Center. Unlike the last three games, the Nets competed in this one and had a chance in the 4th quarter to make it interesting. But it was only fitting that in the last game of 2010, they were unable to get to the winner’s circle.
The matchup of Devin Harris and Derrick Rose was one that I kept a close eye on in this game and honestly neither was very good. I’d certainly give the edge in the matchup to Rose (he had 19 points vs. Harris’ 10), but he was just 5-16 from the field and not his usual impressive self. Harris played alright and had nine assists, but he was 5 of 13 shooting the ball and barely got into double figures with ten points. So while Rose was not the reason the Nets lost, Harris didn’t do much to try and help his team win.
The game began pretty ominously for the Nets as they got down 7-0 early and Avery was forced to use a timeout less than two minutes in. But a strong sign of today’s performance was their ability to come back from deficits and quickly turn them around into leads. They led 15-14 after a TV timeout in the 1st quarter and the same scenario unfolded in the second. The Bulls went on a nice run and took an 11-point lead but the Nets quickly went on a run of their own to take a 43-42 lead late in the quarter. I wrote before the game about the losing mentality Avery Johnson was speaking of earlier today. However this was a very good indicator that things may be changing, though ever so slowly.
One thing I liked about today’s game was the performance of the team’s starting shooting guard and small forward, Travis Outlaw and Stephen Graham. They were both in double figures and shot the mid-range jumper very well. The best thing I saw from them was their aggressiveness. They were not hesitant to shoot and Outlaw had a few nice drives to the bucket, including the dunk pictured above in the second quarter. One puzzling thing from Outlaw was his free throw shooting. It was strange to see an 82% free throw shooter make 3 of 7 at the line, and with a game that was close throughout, those four points certainly could have mattered.
When we come to the team’s centerpiece, Brook Lopez, it was yet another puzzling performance. Brook came out with a very aggressive attitude from the field and scored nine first-quarter points. He was actually one of the only Nets who seemed to be awake when this game started. But he took only 11 shots in the game. While he got to the line 11 times (and most importantly made all 11), this was a game where I thought Brook could dominate. Without Noah in the lineup for Chicago, they really didn’t play a true center in the game except for four minutes from Omer Asik. But instead of putting up 30 points, we got that passive attitude from Brook again. It’s not to say that he didn’t have a decent game, but he could have done so much more.
Before the game I talked about the matchup of the Nets’ power forwards against the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer, and it wasn’t really a matchup at all. The Duke product had 20 points on 8 of 14 shooting and added 15 boards for yet another double-double. But the main problem was the inability for any of the three Nets big men (excluding Brook) to get something done. Kris Humphries, Derrick Favors and Johan Petro combined for just 12 points and 17 rebounds. Now if one of those guys had those numbers it would be one thing, but for the three of them to combine for that total was not enough. Avery Johnson went small a lot and played Travis Outlaw at the 4, so they didn’t play a ton of minutes. But even when the three of them were in the game, they didn’t produce at all.
Once again a common theme came to light in this one and that was the inability to execute on both ends of the floor in the final five minutes. They turned the ball over, took bad shots and committed offensive fouls when they had the ball and gave up wide open dunks on defense. This has too often been the theme of many Nets losses this season. I’m watching the game as a Nets fan and it’s 75-71 with about seven minutes remaining. And then all of a sudden I look up and it’s a nine-point spread with a minute left. The effort is good but I could only imagine how frustrating this must be for Avery Johnson.
So 2010 comes to an end, and not a second too soon for the Nets. The team is now 9-24 and seem destined for a spot at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. There were some good signs in this one but not a W. Have a good New Year’s Eve Nets fans, tomorrow it’s on to Minnesota where hopefully they can get 2011 started on the right track…