Thoughts on the Game: Nets are good for 30 Minutes, Sleepwalk to the Finish

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After about 30 minutes of basketball between the Nets and the Thunder last night, I was in a good mood. The Nets were playing hard and sticking with another team that’s better than them (and with two wins, who’s not better than the Nets right now?), Yi Jianlian looked to be the second-coming of Dirk Nowitzki, and the Nets were surviving another off night by Brook Lopez by getting some clutch buckets by guys like Trenton Hassell and Courtney Lee. The Nets were resembling the new and improved version of themselves, that first started to peek out at the world last Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Sure, they still haven’t won any games since this latest incarnation revealed itself, but their effort and execution against the Wolves, and then the Rockets on Saturday night was generally solid, regardless of the final score.

So I’m thinking at around the 5:40 mark of the third quarter with the Nets up 72-70 off a three pointer by Lee, even if they end up losing to the Thunder, I’m going to look at the bright side of things, because the Nets were now a better team than the one that got killed by the Hawks and the Raptors a few weeks ago. It’s the very least I can ask for in this otherwise dreadful season.

Regrettably, my cheeriness and optimism was wiped out by the time the final buzzer sounded, and the Nets were outclassed by yet another team, falling 105-89 to the Thunder, their 10th loss in a row, and second double-digit losing streak of this young season. My happy thoughts about the direction of the Nets were lulled to sleep, much like how Kevin Durant manages to lull me into thinking the Nets had him contained, only to realize he’s scored 40 points on 15-22 shooting. When Durant drove baseline in the fourth quarter off a pass from Russell Westbrook and finished with an emphatic reverse jam for the basket and the foul, putting the Thunder up 93-78, the last of my good will was jolted out of me.

Another day, another bad Nets loss, and another opportunity for me to openly wonder where and when can the Nets find their victories this season? It’s getting to the point where I’m openly bartering with the basketball gods – I’ll take the bare minimum – give me 10. Just no more history books. No more futility to top all futilities.

After going up 72-70 and the third, the Nets were outscored 35-17 the rest of the way. That’s an 18-point differential in approximately 18 minutes of basketball, at the most critical juncture of the game.  At one point, the Nets had missed 13 of 14 shots over the third and fourth quarters. After getting to the free throw line 21 times in the first half, they only got to the line four more times in the second. They couldn’t even do the little things right, like control a jump ball after Tony Battie tapped it over to Trenton Hassell at the 10:53 mark in the fourth, and Hassell couldn’t handle the tip and turned it over.

The putrid performance over the last 18 minutes essentially overshadowed another fantastic game by Yi Jianlian, who had a team high 29 points on 11-20 shooting. He only attempted (and missed) one three-pointer, but Yi was able to do it on an assortment of long twos and drives to the rim. He also got to the free throw line 9 times, converting 7. It’s obviously begging the question: “who is this guy?” and I can’t blame people for being shocked by his performance. These past three games have been the best I’ve ever seen Yi play in a Nets uniform. Could it be, amidst this disaster of a season that at least one player is breaking through the projected glass ceiling of his potential and proving his doubters wrong?

The same can’t be said for Brook Lopez the past three games. While Yi’s stock is way up, Lopez is resembling stock in print media right now. Another mediocre game that was helped considerably when he got a couple of cheap buckets late in garbage time, finishing with 10 points on 5-11 shooting, along with 7 rebounds. But Lopez’s body language is just awful. And what was with him slapping away coach Kiki Vandeweghe’s hand when he took a seat on the bench in the first quarter after collecting his second foul?

Some more final thoughts after the jump:

  • I think it’s safe to say that Courtney Lee is starting to play better. He had another solid game last night – his second in his past three, scoring 17 points on 7-13 shooting. Lee looks to be picking his spots more wisely and he is starting to collect more easy points by running the floor on the fast break. I said it once during the preseason and I’ll repeat myself – I see a little bit of Kerry Kittles in Courtney Lee whenever he jumps into the lane and intercepts a pass, streaking to the other end for a dunk. While Kerry Kittles was never a superstar, if Courtney Lee could have a career like his (without the knee problems), Nets fans should be thrilled.
  • It was painful watching Terrence Williams guard Kevin Durant during a stretch in the third quarter when Trenton Hassell was on the bench with foul trouble. It’s not as if Hassell was that much better on Durant – he still absolutely annihilated the Nets from the word go. But at least his scoring barrage was quieter with Hassell on the floor. The Thunder were just going back to the well each time with Williams out there on defense, and Durant took advantage.
  • Two plays that absolutely killed me. To close out the first quarter Rafer Alston, back from his back injury, is doing his usual dribble, dribble, dribble special as the shot clock is winding down. Yi, who was basically doing everything offensively at that point, was calling for the ball at the top of the key from Alston’s blind side, but Rafer elects to throw the pass over to Terrence Williams in the corner, who still can’t hit a jump shot. Towards the end of the second quarter, it’s deja vu as Terrence Williams gets into the lane and either needs to shoot it or kick it out to Yi at the top of the Key. TWill elects to go to the corner, and turns the ball over.
  • Devin Harris only had 11 points last night, but I thought he did a good job of helping the team without scoring, grabbing two steals, and registering 11 assists. He also played decent defense on Russell Westbrook, who scored 16 points, but was 4-12 from the field.
  • A lot is being made about the Nets rebounding woes, and rightfully so, as they are still having lapses in concentration which is contributing to the high amount of offensive boards they give up (the Thunder grabbed 13 offensive boards last night). But the Nets actually had the rebounding edge for the first three quarters of the game, until they stopped shooting the ball with any consistency. Consider if a team continues to shoot the ball at 45 percent or less, it’s going to give the opposing team a lot of rebounding opportunities.