Thoughts On the Game: It’s Back to Reality for the Nets

Nash Over Brook

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Valley of the SunsBright Side of the Suns

To quote the immortal Axel Rose, “nothing lasts forever.” The good vibes from Monday’s infamy-avoiding victory against the San Antonio Spurs were not meant to spillover against another tough Western Conference foe, as the Phoenix Suns, the team with the league’s best record since the all-star break, seemed asleep at the wheel for the first half, before putting the screws to the Nets in the third quarter and beating New Jersey 116-105 at the Izod Center.

On the bright side, with win number 10 now in the books, the angst and anxiety that seemed to accompany all of the prior games where the Nets were in control at some point early in the game only to collapse thoroughly in the second half, is now gone. The Nets lost this game because they are one of the league’s worst teams playing one of the league’s best teams. As long as the Nets are no longer the worst of all-time, I can swallow these kinds of performances. These were the kinds of games, against teams like the Suns, I expected the Nets to lose before the season even started. Why should I change my tune now because the Nets had won three of their previous four games?

Actually, the Nets didn’t play all that badly last night, but the Suns are such a terrible match-up for them. All season, the Nets have struggled mightily against the league’s top offensive teams. Their win against the Spurs was actually New Jersey’s first versus a team that’s in the top 10 for offensive efficiency and San Antonio was missing two of their best offensive weapons in Tony Park and Manu Ginobli on Monday, so it hardly counts.  So here comes the Suns, leading the league in offensive efficiency, and it’s easy to see why the Nets just do not have enough firepower to match-up with Phoenix. The Nets led by three at halftime, but were hammered 38-23 in the third quarter, giving Phoenix some distance.The fact that the Nets effectively hung around for most of the game, is a credit to their improved performance for the season.

It’s no surprise that the Nets have been a better team in March as Terrence Williams has become a better player. In many ways, TWill’s up and down season really encapsulates the Nets’ journey all year. Both started off in November showing flashes of potential, but were too error-prone to be effective, before totally bottoming out in December and January. By February, the team and TWill began to redeem themselves with improved play, but still, little results, before starting to click in March. TWill and the Nets are now flawed, but respectable players/teams, demonstrating promise for next season once they’re surrounded with improved parts.  Last night, Williams led a charge in the second quarter that briefly put the Nets up by 7 with about 3:39 left when he sunk back-to-back three-pointers.  He went on to score 21 points, needing 20 shots to do it, but also dishing out 9 assists in the process. In the off-season, I would love to see TWill work on figuring out ways to draw contact and get himself to the free throw line more. He would easily score in double digits every game if he could get to the free throw line five or six times per game.

The other big performance last night came from an unexpected source. I’ve been down on Kris Humphries for the better part of March now, and deservedly so. I felt he had become too selfish offensively, and looked out-of-sync without the ball. Josh Boone, despite his numerous flaws as a player, looked more deserving of Humps backup PF/C spot on the roster, but Kiki Vandeweghe has stuck with Humphries, for better or worse. Hump looked to redeem Kiki somewhat on Monday, when he actually hit a couple of jumpers for the first time in what felt like weeks. But Hump took it one step further against Phoenix, by hitting some more jumpers but also taking advantage of the Suns’ sketchy interior D and adding some baskets at the rim en route to 17 points on 7-11 shooting.

But even with the strong performance from Hump and TWill, the Suns have so many weapons, the Nets just couldn’t compete for 48 minutes. The Suns had six players in double figures, and Steve Nash looked like the younger, less broken-down point guard when matched-up against Devin Harris, scoring 24 points and dishing 14 assists, compared with Devo, who went for 9 points and 9 assists, on 2-10 shooting. Harris also had one big wrap around his back, an ominous sigh for the oft-injured point guard.

A few more thoughts after the jump:

  • Not a great game for Yi Jianlian to add to his highlight reel, especially in the third quarter where Yi made two plays that would have been funny if they didn’t negatively affect the Nets. At around the 3:20 mark, he grabbed the offensive rebound and missed a wide open dunk under the rim, and with less than a minute to go, a pass, that was a bit low from Courtney Lee granted, bounced off Yi’s knees, causing a turnover. Yi’s bad play is accentuated by the fact that a potential replacement of his next season, Amare Stoudemire, scored 15 points on 7-12 shooting in only 27 minutes. I still have questions about Stoudemire’s commitment on the defensive end, but that’s a debate we’ll likely all be having in a few months.
  • It’s getting to the point where Courtney Lee is now quietly putting decent games together. He finished with 17 points on 7-13 shooting, along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. He’s doing this all within the flow of the game now, not in bunches like in the beginning of the season. Besides the 10th win, Lee and TWill’s maturity as players this season, have been some of the few bright spots.
  • Was I the only one thinking of Rocky IV every time I heard Goran Dragic’s name?
  • Loved that during the “Meadowlands Moments” segment, props was given to that epic double overtime game between the Nets and Phoenix in December, 2006. That was one of those games where I had put the Nets on just to check the score and intended to either go out or put something else on, and I ended up being glued to the set from the third quarter on. I forgot that Jason Kidd had a chance to win the game in OT and the ball rimmed out. I’m also shocked that the 42 points Nash scored, remain his career-high.