Never has one victory, coupled with 18 losses, felt so exhilarating.
With their 97-91 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats in New Jersey last night, the Nets losing streak officially ended. Yes, the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets will always be known for their record-setting 0-18 start, but with this victory, the players now have the 800 pound gorilla off their collective backs. The Kiki Vandeweghe era – which kicked off in similar winning fashion as the Lawrence Frank era in 2004 – should now be about player development and building a foundation for 2010, rather than dealing with questions from the national sports media about the team’s futility.
Yet, when you look at the box score this morning, this Nets game was very reminiscent of the team’s first 18. They only shot 39 percent from the field. They were outrebounded 51-39. They were torched by otherwise ordinary players like Stephen Jackson and Raymond Felton, who each scored 28 points, while Gerald Wallace grabbed 20 rebounds again.
But there was something different about last night’s Nets team from the moment Courtney Lee opened the game with a three-point shot. For starters, Courtney Lee actually opened the scoring with a three-pointer, something that’s been hard to come by for Lee and the rest of the Nets shooters this season.
Kiki Vandeweghe stressed in practice on Thursday that he wanted to return to a “fun” brand of basketball, and that was clearly on display at the Izod Center Friday. They couldn’t shoot, and they couldn’t rebound, but they managed to protect the ball (9 turnovers), while disrupting the Bobcats into 19 turnovers. There should be no questions about the team’s “heart” from Chris Douglas-Roberts or anybody else. The Nets were pushing the tempo offensively, recovering more quickly on their defensive rotations, and diving for loose balls. Devin Harris even ended up in the fourth row late in the 4th quarter, as the Nets clung to a lead, and a ball was trickling out-of-bounds.
Most importantly, the team took a number of right hooks from the Bobcats throughout the game and never fell. The Nets stayed well within striking distance for three quarters, and once they were able to go up by six in the fourth, Stephen Jackson hit a pair of treys to tie it. Cue the “same old Nets” attitude, right? Wrong. The Nets then went on a 7-0 run to ice the game.
Josh Boone (7 rebounds, 3 blocks) managed to lose that hangdog expression he’d been wearing for the better part of a month. He blocked Tyson Chandler and Gerald Wallace early in the 1st quarter. He also laid some hard fouls on Bobcats in the paint – earning props after the game from CDR. We’re even willing to overlook Boone’s embarrassing reverse-layup thingee he attempted in the first quarter, that didn’t come close to the rim.
Devin Harris (16 points) was able to lead the team without having a good shooting night from the field. Typically, a 2-12 from your star player is good for the “L,” but Harris did a great job finding Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee all night, en route to 8 assists. And perhaps no points were any bigger than the three free throws Devo hit in the last 90 seconds to put the Nets up 7. Harris looked energized. I hate to bring this up during a moment of elation, but it was obvious that after last year’s benching in Boston, Devin never really trusted Lawrence Frank again. Whether that’s reason to fire Frank is another story. But Harris looked motivated last night. So, his jump shot wasn’t working. There was never a moment where I could question if Devin Harris actually wanted to be out there last night. I can’t say I’ve felt that way about some of Devo’s other games this season.
Something I really loved: Keyon Dooling in his first game back logged 15 minutes and ended up with 2 points, 3 assists and 2 steals. Yet it was his activity on the bench that really appeared to lift this team. On every defensive possession, Dooling whipped his towel down, cheering on his teammates. It was the kind of emotion and leadership, that’s been sorely lacking all season. Welcome back Keyon.
And then there’s Courtney Lee (27 points, 3 steals) and Brook Lopez (31 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks). Sebastian’s post earlier this week citing Courtney Lee was still putting together a better all-around season this year compared to last despite his poor shooting percentage, elicited a lot of negative response from readers. “Stop making excuses,” Lee advocates were told. Well how does 27 points on 11-16 shooting sound? Lee drained his shots from all over the floor – inside and outside. He looked like a legitimate option on offense last night – not some lost, second-year enigma who may have been overvalued by the man who acquired him – interestingly enough the same guy who was coaching his first game last night and who inserted Lee back into the starting line-up. Lee also made a key steal late in the game when he intercepted a lazy hand-off between Jackson and Boris Diaw, streaking all the way for the two-handed slam.
I’m running out of words of praise for Brook Lopez. He put up another 30+ point night, finishing with 31 on 12-22 shooting, and he was active on the boards, grabbing 14 rebounds, and being involved with countless other plays on the inside. He took one shot beyond 15-feet, and worked the post well against Chandler. This is the Brook Lopez we need to see every game going forward.
For some final thoughts on victory #1, read more after the jump.
- To be negative for a minute, why is Terrence Williams keep taking all those jump shots? His jump shooting is so bad right now, it looks like it’s affecting even those little teardrops he used to sink with consistency. TWill’s woes are making him tentative on the offensive end. On one possession in the third quarter, Williams passed on an open shot with the shot clock winding down and instead passed crosscourt to Josh Boone, who naturally couldn’t do anything of note on the offensive end. Just a waste of possession. Yet, Kiki clearly wanted to stay with him all night off the bench.
- When Jackson hit those two threes down the stretch, I couldn’t believe the Nets would pick then to have a major perimeter d lapse, but then Courtney Lee stepped up and stopped Jackson on his next attempt. Remember, Lee wasn’t just brought into New Jersey for his jump shooting.
- As a fan, I’ve really identified with how hard this losing streak has hurt Chris Douglas-Roberts, but if he’s going to run his mouth and single out teammates the way he has for the past eight losses or so, he really needs to work on some fundamentals. It seems like every game he makes a turnover off a lazy pass or handoff. He also missed a ethnical free throw at the end of the first half that could have tied the game. Somehow, I don’t think he made these mistakes because he lacked “heart,” right Fresh?
- Interesting to note who didn’t play tonight – Trenton Hassell and Sean Williams specifically. Hassell had a nice little run when the Nets were only suiting up 8 players a few weeks ago, but he quickly outlived his usefulness, yet Lawrence Frank was playing him 35 minutes a game during his final days. Swat, on the other hand, is a bit of a disappointment, especially since Kiki has said in the past that he’s interested in Sean’s development. I wonder if his idiotic hang on the rim move from Wednesday night was being used against him?
- You don’t realize how much you miss cagey old veterans like Keyon Dooling and Tony Battie until they suit up for the first time all season and your struggling team finally wins a game.
- At this rate, Gerald Wallace is averaging more than 20 rebounds a game against the Nets. That’s insane.
- Props to the Izod Center crowd. One game after curiously booing the team as the buzzer sounded Wednesday, the fans in attendance were clearly into last night’s game and making some noise in a positive way. It was a good thing to hear through the television.