Truth be told, I didn’t expect the Nets to win last night. They’d lost ten games in a row on the road and the Grizzlies were 8-5 on their home court. They were still missing Anthony Morrow and Damion James, while the Grizzlies were at full strength. I was concerned about how the Nets would defend down low, control the ball, & force turnovers. But all my concerns ended up being irrelevant, as the Nets rode a strong all-around effort to an impressive victory in Memphis.
The Nets did a bunch of unfamiliar things last night. They shot well from the field (52.6%) and held their opponents to under 40% shooting. They looked to score inside with their best scorers late in the second half. They won despite getting six fewer trips to the line (10 before the final 12.2 seconds), grabbing five fewer offensive rebounds, and turning the ball over six more times.
Perhaps most importantly, they never relinquished a fourth-quarter lead.
Brook Lopez had arguably his best offensive game of the season. He looked like the big man we’d all expected him to become this season. Brook was scoring at will in the post, drawing fouls on counter-moves down low, and knocking down his shots – eight of 14 from the field and 10-11 from the line. He absolutely dominated Memphis’ interior defense with hook shots, short jumpers, and the slam above which proves both the power of YouTube and the lack thereof in Hasheem Thabeet. While he “only” had six rebounds, the Nets as a whole out-rebounded the Grizzlies 49-39, and Brook seemed to be boxing out with much more regularity than I’d come to expect from him this season.
For the second straight game, the Nets defense was smothering. The Grizzlies were shooting a measly 30.8% after one quarter and forced the top 3 shooters on Memphis to shoot a combined 14-44 from the field. For the second straight game, the Nets bench was instrumental to victory, providing 31 points and six assists. For the second straight game, the Nets forced the best player on the opposing team (Joe Johnson/Rudy Gay) into a 4-16 shooting night.
For the second straight game, the Nets won. Nice to say that, huh?
The Nets got contributions from everyone on the floor. Every player scored and five of the Nets ended up in double figures. Double-double machine Kris Humphries ended the game with – you guessed it – another double-double, putting up 12 points and grabbing 15 big rebounds. Four of those rebounds were offensive, and he was running all over the court to grab them – they weren’t just falling into his hands. Devin Harris was only so-so (11 points, 5 assists, 5 turnovers), but the Nets proved that they can work hard and grab a victory even when their star point guard is having an off night. Prior to this game the Nets had only won once this season when Devin had scored under 21 points, and tonight was a nice reminder that there are other contributors on this team as well.
All in all, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better win that the Nets had this season. While the Nets were out-rebounded on the offensive glass, didn’t get to the line nearly as much, and turned the ball over far more than they should, they simply shot & defended shots so well that none of that made a difference. Preventing a team from scoring is the name of the game, and it was the Nets’ biggest eFG% differential of the season. When you shoot that well, it’s hard to lose.
More thoughts after the jump.
Travis Outlaw played in front of 80 – yes, 80 – friends & family members tonight, and he was more competent than usual – if not still inconsistent. On one stretch in the third quarter, he knocked down a 3 to tie the game at 53 and on the next play promptly missed a fast-break layup off the front of the rim. He finished the game with 15 points and nine rebounds on 5-11 shooting.
Quick note about Brook’s scoring: While he’s been criticized for not showing up in the second half, he scored 13 points in the first half and 13 points in the second half. Amazing what guys can do when they’re actually passed to in the final 24 minutes.
Sasha Vujacic had his second straight game-changing performance off the bench. His line-drive quick-release shot is looking as smooth as ever, and while he didn’t have the absurd +/- numbers he had in Atlanta 14 points and 4 rebounds on 6-8 shooting is a very solid performance off the bench – and one of those misses was a prayer at the end of the 3rd that actually almost fell. I’m absolutely sold on him at this point.
Johan Petro did not play, and the Nets were better off with the decision. Avery was experimenting with Favors at backup center, and while he still succumbed to foul trouble early (three fouls in his first six minutes), he made all three of his shots and again looked like he belonged on the floor. I’d expect Petro’s minutes to continue to go down as Troy Murphy gets back into the swing of things.
Stephen Graham had another very solid game as a starter. While his stats don’t jump off the paper – 9 points & 3 rebounds on 4-7 shooting – his hustle on defense was huge and he made the game-icing jumper with 26.5 seconds left. I’m not in favor of him starting long-term, but he’s one of those rare role players whose impact definitely goes beyond the numbers.
I’ll close on the same note I closed Sunday’s game on: it took the Nets until game 72 to win their ninth of the season. 29 games in is a refreshing change. Hopefully the Nets can take advantage of a struggling Hornets team and steal one in New Orleans, too.