Thoughts on the Game: Los Angeles Lakers 99, New Jersey Nets 92 — Probably Better Than You Expected

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There are a handful of games each season that, as a Nets fan, you just really aren’t expecting to win. For me, every square-off against the Los Angeles Lakers falls under that category. Even though the Nets did, in fact, come up short against the reigning champions Sunday afternoon, there was a lot to be happy about in this contest.

The Nets came out strong, opening the game with a 7-0 run. For the rest of the first half, their play was largely regrettable. The Lakers offense was running on all cylinders per usual, and they closed out the first half with a 10-point lead.

The one saving grace for the Nets was that they kept both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol from going off in the first half, forcing role players like Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown to make their shots.

Unfortunately for the Nets, today they did.

During the intermission, the game figured to be decided in the first several minutes of the third quarter, as the Nets tend to play their worst basketball coming out of the break. With a double-digit deficit in tow, there wasn’t any reason to expect they’d break that trend.

Alas, today they did.

The Nets came out hungry on both ends, seemingly eager to get back in striking distance of the Lakers. I mentioned in the pregame thread the importance of Devin Harris to exploit Derek Fisher’s poor defense. In the first half of the game, he seemed absolutely reluctant to drive anywhere near the basket, presumably for fear of drawing contact on his injured left shoulder. In the third quarter, though, his whole mindset changed. He began initiating drives to the basket, connecting on layups, pull-up jumpers, and hitting his free throws. For this reason, a large portion of his 16 points came in the second half. He shot 0-of-4 from three-point range, so unless he was driving, he was useless.

Also in the third period, the Nets allowed only 17 points on seven field goals, four of which came outside the paint. This allowed them to cut the lead to 2 going into the final frame.

What I liked most about this game was that Avery Johnson finally chose to go to Brook Lopez in the post on a regular basis down the stretch. Usually he’s an afterthought in the fourth quarter, only getting points on putbacks and free throws. Tonight, the Nets, again and again, fed him the ball on the low block, where he made Pau Gasol look softer than cotton.

Speaking of Gasol: While Lopez’s defense on him was solid for most of the game, the main reason he shot 6-of-19 on the night was that he was missing open shots that are usually automatic for him. Several elbow jumpers and eight-foot jump hooks bricked off the rim, and on any other day he would have knocked those down.

In the final minutes, the Nets hung tough, but they couldn’t find the antivenom in time to stop the Black Mamba’s bite. (I’m allowed to make one stupid joke, right?) In his usual fashion, Kobe hit big shots, converted his free throws, and found the open men for easy baskets to put the game out of reach.

As my colleague Devin has been ranting about, when Bryant was at the stripe near the end of the game, there was an audible chant of “MVP!” dominating the Prudential Center. Devin seemed disgusted that this occurred, and while I’m not so thrilled about it, either, let me try and rationalize it a little bit:

(1) There are a lot of people around the U.S. who are from Los Angeles. It’s possible that there was just an unusually strong contingent of Lakers fans there cheering him on.

(2) Any “Nets fan” who would cheer for Kobe is not really a Nets fan. He or she is just a front runner who doesn’t know enough about basketball. Kobe’s not going to win the MVP award this season anyway.

(3) Many Chinese basketball fans stream from nearby New York City to see Nets games. Chinese basketball fans are notoriously fond of Kobe Bryant, who has an immense international presence, so I’m sure many of them jumped in on the cheering.

Yes, it stinks to have the opposing team’s supporters screaming louder than yours during your home game, but it’s really not the end of the world. If the Nets were a playoff team, then it would be a different story.

A few more notes after the jump:

  • Avery Johnson’s theme of accountability continues. Not only did Travis Outlaw ride the bench again (getting on the floor for only six minutes), but AJ chose to deactivate Troy Murphy for the game and replace him on the active roster with Quinton Ross. I understand the idea behind making Outlaw earn his playing time, but I thought the days of having a defense-only option in the starting lineup were over in New Jersey (i.e., Trenton Hassell never should have started for the Nets, Lawrence Frank and Kiki Vandeweghe, and neither should Ross).
  • Jordan Farmar’s first game against his former team left much to be desired. In 23 minutes, he had just 8 points on 3-of-9 shooting, including 1-of-6 from downtown. Farmar needs to start shooting better off the bench, or he might find himself on the bench, with Terrence Williams handling the majority of the backup point-guard duty.
  • Kris Humphries is turning into quite the shot blocker. A part of his game that was nonexistent last year has turned into a significant boost to the Nets defense around the rim.