Last night’s game in Toronto followed a familiar script for the Nets this season. They played pretty well throughout the game, had a chance to win in the final few minutes and then failed to execute, both offensively and defensively, when the game was on the line. At the end of the day the Nets and Raptors are two very even teams. So despite the fact that the Nets had a lead for most of the night, you knew this one would come down to the final seconds. And it was their inability to stop Andrea Bargnani, coupled with some tremendous clutch shot-making by the Raptors that ultimately led to their 20th loss of the season.
Aside from the final minutes, there actually isn’t much to criticize about the Nets from last night. I like what I saw out of them for much of the night, especially their execution on the offensive end. While they didn’t shoot the ball that well, although 45% isn’t awful, they only turned the ball over 12 times and were able to get some very good shots. They had to deal with the loss of Quinton Ross to a bruised lower back after just two minutes and Travis Outlaw stepped up and had a productive 40 minutes. Though he was just 3 of 9 from the field, he made all seven free throws he took and scored 14 points. With the way the Nets had been playing offensively during some of their recent eight-game losing streak, 92 points would have been plenty enough to win this game.
Coming into last night’s game I talked about their frontline and the consistency needed from Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries. Well the two played well again tonight, as Hump had his usual double-double and Brook put in 20 points and grabbed 7 boards. More importantly they were both very efficient on the offensive end, especially Humphries. While the Minnesota product does not have a ton of offensive talent, he picks his spots well and his offensive rebounding yields easy put-back attempts. The Nets other frontcourt guy, the Rook Derrick Favors, also had a decent night and was able to make a few nice plays off the pick-and-roll. He still struggles with foul trouble though and was limited to 17 minutes.
Tonight we saw the New Jersey Nets debut of the one and only Sasha Vujacic. The shooting guard showed a lot of energy off the bench but did not show a lot of shot-making, which is what he’s going to need to do to stay in this rotation. The team was awful from three-point land, making just 2 out of 12 treys, and Sasha certainly contributed to that by going 0 for 5. I’ll be honest, I was never a big fan of his when he was on the Lakers, so until he starts hitting shots consistently, I’m going to be skeptical of his play.
Devin Harris had a solid night but did not take enough shots in my opinion. One night he takes 25, the next he takes 12. It just doesn’t add up and while 25 isn’t the right number of shots within the offense, he needs to take at least 15 if you ask me. This brings me to the other member of the Nets starting point guard last night, Mr. Jordan Farmar. I’m not sure if he thinks that because he’s technically starting at the shooting guard position, that he just has a free license to take whatever shot presents itself. But aside from the absolutely ridiculous throw-down he had, most of his shots were forced and not within the flow of the offense. If Farmar is going to take 14 shots, he sure as heck better make more than four of them, and I’m sure Avery was not happy with his shot selection last night.
As I said before this game came down to the last few minutes. The biggest problem the Nets had was on cross-matches with Bargnani and it ultimately cost them the game. The former number one overall pick is a tremendous talent, but New Jersey needed to find a better way to cover him on the pick-and-roll. I can’t even count the number of times that D. Harris ended up on him, and the backbreaking possession was no exception. With the Nets trailing by two and the shot clock winding down, Bargnani got the ball in the post while being covered by Harris. Farmar (correctly so) showed a double team on the Italian center, who promptly kicked it out to Leandro Barbosa for the game-clinching three. Granted it was a big-time shot by the former Sun, but it would have never happened if the cross-matchup with Bargnani didn’t cause the defensive rotation by Farmar.
Another thing that has really gotten to me with this team at times is the inability to challenge the opposition at the rim. To see DeMar DeRozan drive right down the lane uncontested for a jam in the final minutes was a flat-out joke. Sure they had a miscommunication defensively but the fact that none of those guys came over and at least fouled DeRozan or tried to block his shot was pathetic. Toughness breeds winning and contesting shots is a big part of that.
This was not a game the Nets could have won, it was one they should have won. They have just as much (if not more) talent than Toronto and had their chances to win, as I predicted before the game. It’s one thing to compete against the better teams and fall just short at the end, but these are the ones that really sting. They’re home for Atlanta on Sunday before heading on the road for five of the next six…