AP Photo/Tom Strattman
In most basketball games, there’s the big picture reason for the outcome – the overall theme of a game – and then the microcosm moment(s) where the momentum of the match-up officially swing in one team’s direction carrying them to the finish line. What I found interesting about last night’s 115-102 victory for the Indiana Pacers over the Nets was the fact that the big picture reason for the Nets loss and the microcosm moment where the game was officially lost were on totally opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of how a team can lose a game.
Let me explain. A quick look at the box score and a big picture statistic sticks out like a sore thumb for the Nets. They allowed the Pacers to score 60 points in the pain on only 12 fast-break points. This just reflects extraordinarily bad interior defense for the Nets. There were just way too many baskets for Indiana throughout the game where it was a one-on-one matchup for their offensive player right under the rim. Like at the 7:00 mark in the first when off of two free throws from Brook Lopez, Danny Granger beat the entire Nets team back down the court and was wide open under the rim for a dunk. The Nets appeared to have Courtney Lee guarding Grander early, and Lee lost track of him in these situations several times. With Lee, probably the Nets’ best defender, having an off game like this, you just knew it was going to be one of those kinds of games defensively for the Nets.
Yet, even with these lapses, the Nets led by as many as 12 early, and even when Indiana started to make their move in the third quarter, the Nets hung around and stayed close to even until about the 4 minute mark where the microcosm moment was introduced. While it would have seemingly made more sense if the Pacers were able to go on their run by making a few uncontested baskets at the rim, they were actually able to sink the Nets for good from the outside. The Nets completely forget that Troy Murphy is one of those big-men who can shoot, and Murphy made them pay by hitting back-to-back treys, extending a Pacers lead from 2 to 8. While an 8-point lead wasn’t insurmountable for the Nets a night earlier against the Bulls, playing the road-half of a back-to-back probably sucked the last bit of fight out of the Nets, and they were never truly “in” the game from that point forward.
So, while it may be easy on the surface to say the Nets lost this game because of their interior defense, I felt the nail in the coffin came on poor perimeter defense. In other words, it’s the kind of game you expect the worst team in the league to lose, especially against a hot team like Indiana who are 9-2 in their last 11 and look a lot better down the stretch than how they’ve looked most of the season.
A few more thoughts after the jump.
- There was a play early in the first quarter which gave me pause but resulted in two points, so I was originally wasn’t going to complain until the Nets made the same mistake again and that time turned the ball over. The first time around, Devin Harris and Courtney had a two-on-break and instead of passing it off to Lee earlier in the possession for the easy lay-in, Devin waited a tick or two to long and had to alley-oop the ball to Lee, who made a great catch and laid it in. Fast forward to around the 5 minute mark in the second quarter, and this time, Lee had a three-on-one with Terrence Williams and Chris Douglas-Roberts as flankers, and Lee got a little too deep under the hoop and just tossed an awful alley-oop pass to TWill, leading to the turnover. The Nets, even while they were racking up assists the past few weeks, just didn’t really look crisp with their passing, a point Mike Fratello mentioned from the booth. Here’s exhibit A and B in my opinion.
- You have to wonder if Yi Jianlian is catching wind of some of the negative press he’s been getting lately as the team closes in on the free agent period. While he still wasn’t particularly effective defensively – partly responsible for Troy Murphy’s game high 25 points – Yi did have a bit of an edge for himself offensively, something we really haven’t seen since the 2-3 week period after his return from injury in December. On the game’s very first possession, Yi did a great job moving without the ball and caught a pass in the paint and did a quick release fadeaway for two points. In the third quarter, Yi caught the ball about 15 feet out and had a great first step to the rim drawing the foul. There is definitely talent here with Yi, and maybe there’s a future in this league as a 6th man.
- What’s with Earl Watson blocking a Yi free-throw practice attempt in the first quarter?
- Though the Nets interior defense was pretty much horrific last night, I do think overall the Nets are becoming a bit tougher around the hoop. Case in point in the second quarter when Solomon Jones had an open path to the rim for a dunk and Kris Humphries entered the frame and challenged him, preventing the easy two and taking Jones down in the process. It wasn’t a dirty play, but a hard foul. I think the Nets are long ways removed from CDR’s “lacking toughness” comments of yesteryear, at least when it comes to plays at the rim.
- I, for one, am thankful that I don’t have to watch Brook Lopez try to defend Roy Hibbert anymore this season. I really hope the Lopez and the Nets do something simply in the off-season, like watch some tape of the guy, because there’s no other reason why Hibbert should be consistently getting the ball that deep in the post against Lopez every time these two face off against each other.