Thoughts on the Game: Nets Go From Heroes To Zeroes

Devin Harris end of game

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Raptors RepublicView From the Couch

When I was young kid, I remember a recurring column in Highlights magazine called Goofus and Gallant. Goofus was your typical jerky kid, who always managed to make the rude, selfish, or oblivious decision. Gallant was the prized pupil, who was courteous, selfless and cognizant of how his behavior could affect others. But part of G&G’s gimmick was that both children looked exactly the same – perhaps to demonstrate to youngsters reading HIghlights that in a given situation, you have two choices, and based on those choices, you could be either Goofus or Gallant. It was pretty heavy stuff for a 6-year-old.

Little did I know that nearly 25 years later I’d be reliving the adventures and decisions of Goofus and Gallant through the 2009-2010 New Jersey Nets. Last night’s 100-90 loss against the Toronto Raptors, truly embodied the duality of the Nets this season. One half was filled with high percentage shots, good defense, solid ball control and ball movement, while the other half was a mess, filled with poor shot selection, lazy defense, sloppy passes and no ball movement.

Despite giving up 29 first quarter points, the Nets made it to halftime leading 51-48 against the Raptors – a team that has given them fits all season. And while a three-point halftime lead is hardly anything to get excited about, the Nets were at least playing hard enough and intelligently enough to warrant raised expectations. Devin Harris was attacking the rim with reckless abandon, but finding ways to snake his way around defenders in the paint, scoring 16 in the first half, while Terrence Williams was doing a good job controlling the ball as point forward, scoring at the hoop on 4 of his first 5 attempts as well. It’s an obvious observation, but the Nets are at their best when Harris and Williams are attacking the rim, opening up opportunities for Brook Lopez and their shooters – Courtney Lee and Jarvis Hayes.

Additionally, I thought the Nets played relatively well on defense early, especially on the interior. On their first two possessions, Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh attacked the rim and were met by the returning Yi Jianlian who forced Bargnani into a bad shot and blocked Bosh outright. With about 5 minutes to go in the half, Yi got another block, this time on Antoine Wright, who seemed hellbent on attacking the basket area against his former team regardless of who was down there.

Was this the best half of basketball the Nets have played this season? No. They were only leading by there against a team that’s been playing almost as bad as the Nets have in recent weeks, falling from within striking distance of the Boston Celtics in the Atlantic, to barely holding on to the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Outside of Yi’s early block, and some decent one-on-one play from Josh Boone in the second quarter, the Nets had no defensive answer for Chris Bosh, which would come back to haunt them in the third and fourth quarters when the Raptors figured out if they rode Bosh exclusively, they’d be able to put the Nets away. The always insightful “Czar” Mike Fratello noted early on that Brook Lopez was giving Bosh way too much space, which led to a couple of easy jumpers. It’s a catch-22, since if Brook got up close on Bosh, the PF would have either driven around him, or drawn a foul from Lopez, but the Nets as a team never made any adjustments, which shouldn’t surprise me because they’ve been unable to make adjustments since they were essentially left to coach themselves in December.

But that still doesn’t take away an overall solid first half. For the first time in a very long time, Kiki Vandeweghe went with a full compliment of bench players – Kris Humphries, Boone, Hayes, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Keyon Dooling, and I thought the group played relatively well together. Towards the end of the second quarter, three of their last four field goals made were assisted on, including two from Terrence Williams

Then the third quarter started, and out came Goofus. During three possessions at the start, Bosh scored on an offensive rebound and a putback, Devin Harris made a bad pass and a TO, Hedo Turkoglu scored on an open jumper, Harris missed a layup at the rim, and Bargnani hit another open jumper. The Czar, yet again, ahead of the game, said the Nets looked like they needed a timeout after the Bargnani shoo because they looked disjointed and unorganized on both ends of the floret, but the Nets continued to run their offense. A shot at the rim for Courtney Lee seemed to have stemmed the tide, but the Nets followed that up by more bad play from TWill and Devin with the ball, and a slew of missed jumpers that culminated with a 6 minute drought over the third and fourth quarters. Meanwhile, Bosh was able to score from all over the court en route to a 32-19 third quarter for Toronto. With the Nets ultimately losing the game by 10, there’s the difference right there.

Though I’m convinced that even if the Nets were so badly outplayed in the third, they still would have found a way to lose that game last night, because they were so far into Goofus mode that they seemed incapable of pulling themselves out of the death spiral. Towards the end of the fourth quarter, Terrence Williams missed two consecutive shots at the rim, when he took on two and three defenders without even looking to pass out of traffic. I was a huge proponent of getting TWill into the starting lineup down the stretch, especially over Trenton Hassell who’s biggest credit in seems is that he’s a nice guy. But if Williams can’t learn to play within the flow of the offense for an entire game, he needs to be designated back to the second unit, and someone like Jarvis Hayes, who is still hitting his jumpers at a decent clip, may be better suited for the starting lineup. That is, of course, if the Nets want to avoid infamy and get to 10 wins.

More thoughts after the jump.

  • Someone file a missing person report for Courtney Lee. Why is it always after I sing the praises of a player elevating his game, he turns around and does this to me (and the rest of you, I guess). Lee scored two points on three shots last night, and outside of two jumpers early in the first half where I noticed that he just seemed to have no legs whatsoever, he just seemed incapable of getting his hands on the ball in an offensive situation. He did make a nice play in the third, breaking up a near-certain Toronto score, where he deflected an alley-oop pass during a three-on-one break, but other than that, did Lee really play 23 minutes?
  • I feel like Brook Lopez’s final offensive numbers may be skewed by the fact that he did manage to hit three jumpers in the first half, padding his total of 18. Otherwise, he was pretty much a non-factor as well, though he did grab 9 offensive rebounds and surprisingly tallied 5 assists. So there’s something.
  • As I said earlier, I thought Josh Boone was the only player who seemed to have any clue how to front Bosh when he was assigned to him in the second quarter. So naturally Boone only played 8 minutes last night, while Yi, in his first game in two weeks got to play 38 minutes. Makes sense.
  • To Yi’s credit, he did score on an offensive rebound and a putback at around the 5:50 mark in the first quarter which may have been the first time I’ve seen that happen in his career. Exaggeration? You decide.
  • Toronto seemed very chippy last night, racking up three technical fouls all in the second half. Of course, at that point, they were pulling ahead as the Nets were shooting themselves in the foot, so rather than coming across as “intensity” it just makes a lot of the Raptors players look stupid for arguing over calls in a game that felt more like a blowout once the third quarter ended.
  • When is someone going to teach Devin Harris that leaving your feet with the ball without a place to pass is a bad idea. I learned that playing on the playground as kid.
  • The more Kris Humphries plays, the less I see him as figuring a large role on this roster going forward, meaning the Nets are going to have to rebuild their entire frontcourt this summer through free agency and the draft – unless of course they’re going to shove another year of Yi down our throats, which remains a distinct possibility.
  • By the way, I’m glad that Antonine Wright always seems to have a chip on his shoulder when he plays the Nets, scoring 11 points, with 2 steals and 2 blocks off the bench. Too bad he’s such a terrible, terrible player against the rest of the league.