If there was a way to stop all Nets-Cavs games after the first quarter, the Nets might be the team looking like the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.
For the second consecutive match-up for these two teams, the undisputed worst team in the east took it to the best team. The Nets jumped out to an early 8-point lead in Cleveland last night, with Jarvis Hayes and Courtney Lee combining for 19 points in the first quarter. Hayes was especially sharp, drilling three treys in the first, while LeBron James was more methodical, waiting until the second half to erupt for his eventual game high 32 points.
But like the previous games against Cleveland, once the Cavs were able to get ahead, there never was any doubt that they were going to have to look back. A common analogy used in sports is the “switch” a championship level team is able to turn on and off, especially during the regular season against lesser opponents. The Nets-Cavs dynamic this season embodies the “switch” comparison to a “T.” In this case, Shaquille O’Neal jammed home two points at the 9:52 mark in the second quarter, putting Cleveland up 32-31. From there, Cleveland’s lead was as high as 17, though the Nets were able to chip away down to 5 a few times, and managed to keep the final score within seven points.
On the surface, you could say the Nets have laid Cleveland surprisingly well this season – in their three games they’ve lost by 10, 10 and 7. But in all of these games, Cleveland’s lead in the second half just felt so much more insurmountable. The Nets were down 6 going into half when I realized that LeBron James had only scored 9 points. How could anyone reasonably expected the game’s leading scorer to have such pedestrian numbers for the entire game. Naturally, he didn’t. He scored on five of the team’s first eight possessions in the third quarter. At that point, I realized: there was no way the Nets were going to win this game. It was all about whether or not LeBron or the Cavs were interested in keeping it close or not.
To the Nets credit, they got some overall good performances from Courtney Lee (24 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists), who’s starting to bunch more of the positive games together than bad, and Brook Lopez (23 points, 14 rebounds), who I was relieved to see smiling a bit during the fourth quarter’s final minutes. While some fans may bristle at their star player looking at ease when the team is about to lose its 47th game of the season, I’ve become so accustomed to the look of dejection and frustration on Brook’s face at the end of games, I’ll take a smile at this stage of the season. If we were charting the 7 stages of grief here, I think Lopez is finally at acceptance, or at the very least, he’s becoming more functional.
What was most concerning to me in this game was what a big fat flop the reserves were. With Keyon Dooling pushed into the first unit for the ailing Devin Harris, guys like Kris Humphries and Terrence Williams needed to step up their production, and they did just the opposite. While +/- numbers are not always the greatest indicators in small, 48 minute sample sizes, last night’s differentials were very telling: Tony Battie (-19), Trenton Hassell (-14), Chris Quinn (-11), Kris Humphries (-22) and Terrence Williams (-23). The starters meanwhile, all had positive differentials. A strong showing from some of these guys could have been the difference in a 7-point game if you believed the Nets were capable of catching Cleveland napping. As for a curious development for the bench – an “available” Chris Douglas-Roberts earned the nefarious DNP-CD.
Some final thoughts after the jump.
It’s probably petty for me to rip on a player who’s had such a minor role in such an awful season, but it was absolutely infuriating to watch Tony Battie start of the fourth quarter with two long jumpers outside of 20-feet, essentially putting the game out of reach for the Nets. I haven’t watched a lot of Battie throughout his career, but he hasn’t had much range from that spot all season, and who knows the last time he hit those shots with any kind of consistency. This guy is supposed to be the cagey veteran on this team. If I wanted to see PFs take ill-advised jump shots during crunch time, I’d just give the ball to Kris Humphries.
As solid of a game as it was for Courtney Lee, he made a real boneheaded play at the end of the third. With about 25 seconds left in the quarter, he pushed the ball up the court off the rebound and was in a 1 on 4 situation. While the first question one should ask is why were Courtney’s teammates taking so long to run the floor, it still doesn’t explain why Lee didn’t brine the ball back out and rest rather than heave a 15-footer, missing the rim.
The Cavs shot 52.4 percent at the end of the first half and finished shooting 52.7 percent. Again, it just felt like they were able to get whatever shot they needed, whenever they needed it. I forgot what it feels like to watch a sports team that can constantly do that.
Every time I watch Anderson Varejao, I want to kick that guy in the shin, but I would take that guy on my bench any day of the week. He’s certainly better than anyone the Nets roll out there at the four, and his ability to hustle and grind and just be in the middle of every play when he’s on the floor is uncanny. Kris Humphries has moments where he can take over a game like that, but not with any consistency.
Watching the Nets collapse on Shaq in the post and leave open Cleveland’s shooters is so frustrating. I know the guy still can have a good game from time to time, but do they realize it’s not 2000 anymore? Has the Nets organization got over the 2002 Finals yet? It’s not Todd MacCulloch out there. Let’s see how Brook does in a man-on-man defensive situation.