What a strange feeling. I was watching the Nets, and a competitive basketball game broke out.
Actually, towards the end of the fourth quarter, the game wasn’t competitive at all. But instead of the usual images of Brook Lopez and Chris Douglas-Roberts sitting dejectively on the bench with towels over their heads, Nets players were laughing at the sight of Terrence Williams and Kris Humphries throwing thunderous jams down on the Los Angeles Clippers, sealing a 103-87 win for New Jersey’s fourth victory of the year.
Slow down there, 72-73 Sixers. Keep the champagne on ice. The Nets just need to play like that six more times this year. And there are some winnable games on the schedule the next two weeks. Not that anyone on a 4-40 team should be looking ahead.
It’s actually pretty simple to explain why the Nets won last night. They were aggressive when they needed to be in taking the ball to the rim, scoring 44 points in the paint. They hit a number of big jump shots in the fourth quarter – they were 5-7 from beyond 15-feet in the game’s final 12 minutes. They outrebounded the Clippers 42-38. But most importantly, they played defense. They played defense for all 48 minutes. Even when the Clippers made their run in the third quarter to tie, the Nets were never getting shredded on defense. They just weren’t making their shots and it allowed LA to get back into it. The Nets never gave up that big quarter like they’ve done in nearly every other game this season. The most the Clippers scored in a quarter was 23.
What ultimately impressed me the most about last night’s performance, was the way this team took multiple punches but never fell to the mat. With both Devin Harris and Courtney Lee out, and Yi Jianlian spending most of the game on the bench in foul trouble, the rest of these guys could have easily phoned this game in and nobody would have thought anything of it – they’ve been phoning in games at full strength this year, why shouldn’t then while they’re injured?
Leading by 10 coming out of halftime, the Nets started the third quarter disastrously, committing three straight turnovers and then missing five consecutive shots. Their 51-41 lead was cut to 51-50 at the 7:30 mark of the quarter. This has typically been the point in the game where the Nets bend, then break. Instead, they ran their lead up to 10 again.
By the time the fourth quarter was rolling along, the Clippers had cut the Nets lead back to 5 again. That’s when with about 7 minutes left, Keyon Dooling took over, making a driving layup, and then two jumpers from 17 and 18 feet. The Nets were up 85-74, and the Clippers never made a serious run again.
Most of the accolades for the night are going to get to Kris Humphries, and deservedly so. The guy was just a beast on both ends on the floor last night, just showing a toughness and ferocity that even the “Muscle Devil” version of Yi just doesn’t posses. Has any Net thrown his elbows around to protect a defensive rebound the way Humphries did with about 7 minutes to go in the second quarter? He was even able to draw a foul from DeAndre Jordan on the play. And you have to love Hump’s effort to get back on defense at the 4:07 mark of the fourth quarter when Eric Gordon had a seemingly open path to the hoop on a breakaway. Humphries disrupted the shot, causing the miss.
And even better, Hump did the “little things” but still scored – netting 25 points on 10-14 shooting. I still don’t like his propensity to take jumpers – he was 1-4 from beyond 15-feet last night, and he just seems so much better of a player when he keeps the ball inside, but you can’t argue with his overall numbers.
Of course, if you’re going to talk about the “little things,” Terrence Williams’ effort cannot be ignored. Quite frankly, I thought TWill was phenomenal last night, and the guy only scored seven points. The 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals, showed how Williams can help his teammates without putting the ball in the hoop. I think his defensive effort deserved applause as well. Kiki Vandeweghe had TWill guarding a number of players last night including Baron Davis and Eric Gordon – none of them went off on a crazy scoring night. About a month ago, TWill was useless to me, but I have to give credit to Kiki and Rod Thorn for sticking with this guy, because it’s game like this where he finally starts to look like a lottery pick. This is exactly the kind of player skillet and talent-wise you want on a winning team. A guy who doesn’t have to score for you to remember his performance.
A few more thoughts after the jump:
- Chris Douglas-Roberts did another disappearing act. He started off the game very aggressively, scoring two baskets quick, and showing great awareness on a sudden fast break, when he recovered the ball on a steal and lobbed it to Brook Lopez for the alley-oop. But CDR was soon a non-factor and only took 7 shots for the evening. Kiki rightfully went with TWill down the stretch and it paid off.
- You got to love games when Brook Lopez scores 19 points, grabs 9 rebounds and blocks 3 shots, and his performance is an afterthought because of the good work of his teammates.
- So here you go, guys – a great win with Devin Harris and Courtney Lee out and Yi on the bench for all but 15 minutes. Coincidence? Let me just ask you this – do you really expect Humphries, Dooling and TWill to play like they did last night day-in and day-out? Maybe one of the three, but all three, every game until mid-April? Think about that.
- I thought Chris Quinn was a real spark off the bench last night, scoring 8 points, including 2-2 from three. The guy has a nice little stroke, and while he’s definitely undersized out there, I think even when the team gets back to full strength, Kiki needs to find a way to get this kid 10-15 minutes a game as an outside threat and a stable ball handler.
- Ian Eagle is just an American classic. When Bobby Brown came into the game, he instantly went with the “My Prerogative” joke and then followed it by working in “every little step” and “New Edition” references. For all you kids out there, before Bobby Brown was showing up in police blotters and doing drugs with Whitney Houston, he was sort of a pop star. I’m sure you can find something on wikipedia.