Thoughts on the Game: Not As Close as it Looked for Nets

Terrence Williams Thunder

AP Photo/Alonzo Adams

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NBA basketball can be funny sometimes. Immediately after Wednesday’s 9-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks, I bemoaned the fact that the Nets had played a relatively good game that they deserved to win. Two days later, the Nets got thoroughly outplayed by the Oklahoma City Thunder for about 45 minutes, but a short burst in the game’s final minutes turned this into a two-point, 104-102 loss for the Nets. In this case, the final score was absolutely deceiving. The Nets could have lost this game by 20 and I wouldn’t have been the least bit shocked based on the way things were unfolding.

I hope it doesn’t make me too much of a grump that I can’t get all that excited by the final score of this game and say – “well, they gave the Thunder a scare.” Or, “the Nets got mediocre to bad performances from Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee, but they were still in a spot where they could have stolen one.”

To start things off on a positive, I was very impressed with the Nets role players tonight. In the first half, Keyon Dooling and Terrence Williams each came off the bench to save the Nets from letting this game get away from them before it started. Dooling had 12 of his 15 points in the first half while Terrence Williams continued his impressive run of all-around games in March with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. His shooting is still atrocious. One three attempt wide open in the corner in the second quarter missed the rim and the backboard entirely.  But you have to be happy with how TWill is finally starting to mature as a player.

In the fourth quarter, the starters got a boost from Jarvis Hayes, who single-handedly pulled the Nets within four after sinking back-to-back treys with about two minutes left in the game. Still, it was a shot-putted jumper by Hayes with about a minute left that has epitomized this Nets season. With an opportunity to cut OKC’s lead to two or less, the Nets looked disoriented on offense. A pass from under the basket by Devin Harris was almost picked off but skipped its way over to Williams, who then moved it quickly to a heavily-guarded Hayes at the top of the key. With about three seconds left on the shot clock, Hayes looked like he was trying to force contact and heaved it. If this was baseball, it probably would have been good for a double in the gap, but since this is basketball, the shot missed badly and capped off just a terrible possession for the Nets in crunch time, something the franchise should trademark along with “Brooklyn Nets” before the end of the season.

I saw a lot more bad than good from the Nets in this game and it really would have been a shocking collapse for a very talented Thunder team if they lost this thing in the final two minutes. J.G. Marking at the Daily Thunder blog says it all:

Boy am I glad this one is over and there’s a “W” in the good column instead of a “I want to bash my head in because I can’t believe they lost” in the bad column (what, there was a couple “L’s” in that sentence). This was one of the most anticlimactic games I can remember that I was waiting for the Thunder to blow open and they never did, letting the Nets hang around…and hang around…and then absolutely frighten me in the last few minutes.

The first quarter especially demonstrated the talent discrepancy between these two teams. The Nets continued their dangerous trend of getting run off the floor early because of poor transition defense. And as I mentioned in a post earlier this week, you can’t even blame the presence of Yi on this one. Josh Boone was Yi-esque, frequently losing track of Jeff Green early on, who was in double-digits in points by the end of the first quarter. The Nets also didn’t help their cause by making a plethora of lazy passes that led to transition baskets. By the end of the first quarter the Nets had 6 turnovers and the Thunder had 13 fast break points. Considering the finally tally for both these statistics by the end of the game was 12 TOs and 20 fast break points, and you can see just how bad the Nets were early.

Meanwhile, the Nets big three were up and down and mostly down. Devin Harris had a solid night statistically with 19 points and 8 assists, but it took him 20 shots to get there. I loved how he picked up the offensive foul on Russell Westbrook with less than a minute to go in the game, but Harris didn’t do that much to get himself to the free throw line, only attempting three FTs for the game. Before the start of the fourth quarter, Mike Fratello did a great telestrator breakdown of how Lopez was allowing OKC’s defenders to move him out of the post and essentially turn him into a jump shooter. And this wasn’t much ado about nothing either as Lopez attempted five of his 14 FGs from outside of 17-feet, only hitting one. A lot of his other shots were short range jumpers and hooks below the foul line. Considering Lopez was up against Nenad Krstic, who I think is fair to say is a tad soft on the interior, Lopez should have fought through some of OKC’s defensive formations to stay closer to the hoop. This is his third mediocre game in a row, and I wondering if the strain of the full NBA season is finally starting to affect Lopez who was a bit more coddled playing-time wise by Lawrence Frank last year.

As for Courtney Lee, early on, I was curious to see how his banged up hand was going to affect his jumper. Looking at his final shooting line, 2-9, 6 points, no field goals until there was about 4 minutes left in the game, I guess you could conclude that the injury affected him, but from the naked eye, I just saw Lee force a lot of jumpers that he shouldn’t have been taking. He did get one open look from three towards the end of the first quarter that he missed, but otherwise I think I need to see more from Lee before I can determine whether it’s the injury or his shot selection.

A few more thoughts after the jump:

Come playoff time, I think I’m going to be a lot more intrigued by the Western Conference match-ups than the East. In the East, I think the main storyline is going t be whether or not LeBron and the Cavs blow their opportunity to get to the Final again. In the West however, you have a lot of quality teams, and for the first time in a few years, some new teams making noise like Oklahoma City. If the playoffs started today, the Thunder would match-up against Utah in the first round, which could be one of the better first round match-ups in playoff history from an entertainment perspective.

I’m begging Kiki Vandeweghe AGAIN to get away from this Trenton Hassell in the starting lineup stuff. I know he thinks the team is shorthanded with Yi out (hence all the Jarvis Hayes at PF stuff we’ve seen recently), but I don’t even think you can say that Hassell is much of a presence defensively anymore. He’s not some kind of lockdown defender here, and he does so little offensively. Please, please, just get someone else out there, Kiki.

Speaking of playing time analysis, I think the final nail in the coffin for Chris Douglas-Roberts was his curious interview with his “Memphis People” Commercial Appeal earlier in the week. He hasn’t played a minute in the two games since the interview was published. People are going to claim conspiracy theories, but I really think CDR brought this upon himself. A few months ago, Terrence Williams was under considerably more fire for his off-the-court antics but found a way to play himself back into the rotation. CDR responded to his adversity by settling into some kind of Hamlet-esque mental funk where Kiki was his Claudius. While it makes for good drama (obviously, I’m comparing it to Shakespeare), I just don’t think Kiki and the rest of the Nets want to deal with CDR anymore.

Gotta love how the YES broadcast team was questioning early on whether or not the OKC fans were going to sit down or remain standing once the Thunder scored their first points off a FT.