The last time the Nets gained a victory, in any shape, form or iteration, was an April 13, 91-87 victory against the Charlotte Bobcats at the Izod Center. In that time, the Lakers won the NBA Finals, Vince Carter was traded to the Magic, the King of Pop died, the U.S. Government officially began its debate on health care reform, a nation was hoodwinked by a reality TV crazed father who said his kid was stuck in a weather balloon, and the Nets lost a score of summer league and preseason games. Yes, until last night’s wire-to-wire dominant 110-88 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers at Carneseca Arena in Queens, NY, it had been a long time since Nets players – and their fans- last saw what a victory looks like.
We certainly saw, and can remember, what the losses looked like. Key players, like Devin Harris, Courtney Lee Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes on the sidelines in suits. Inconsistent play from young players like Yi Jianlian, Terrence Williams and Brook Lopez. Porous defense on the perimeter as teams – mainly the Knicks who played the Nets three times in the preseason – drained three after three. Failed opportunities by players like Courtney Lee, who were improbably in position to tie the game with seconds left, despite being down 5 points only a few seconds before.
Yes, throughout those losing moments, there were glimpses into a positive future for the team. The rapid ascent of Chris Douglas-Roberts who, as he aptly noted yesterday on his Twitter feed, has silenced the “haters” for the time-being. Opportunity being allowed to players like Yi, TWill and Courtney Lee, who will have their growing pains, but who will also have nights that give you permission, as fans, to dream big. But still, despite these snapshots of positivity, watching last night’s game against Sixers created an unfamiliar sensation for fans. So, this is what it looks like when all of these things come together. So, this what victory looks like.
Victory is efficient shooting from the field, 51.4 percent on 78 shots, while holding your opponent to 40 percent shooting on 90 field goal attempts. It’s getting to the free throw line at an astounding rate – 30-40 from the charity stripe – while the Sixers were only 10-19. It’s outrebounding your opponents 49-43. It’s a balanced scoring attack led by Yi (22 points, 11 rebounds), Terrence Williams (23 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals), Chris Douglas-Roberts (15 points, 2 steals), Brook Lopez (11 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks), Courtney Lee (13 points, 2 steals) and Jarvis Hayes (11 points, 4-4 shooting). By the way, Devin Harris didn’t even suit up last night, but it really didn’t matter. This team gelled just fine without him.
Victory is when Yi, the enigmatic power forward who added all that bulk, and reportedly all that confidence in the off-season, legitimately outplayed an established all-star in Elton Brand during key stretches of the game. Specifically, a 6 minute and 30 second stretch at the start of the third quarter where the Nets were up 13, a solid, but not insurmountable lead. The always fantastic play-by-play duo for YES, Ian Eagle and Mike Fratello were even looking at the match-up during that stretch, and according to the game-flow chart supplied by Popcorn Machine.net, Yi and the Nets ultimately came out on top with a +/- of +4. Yi helped his team with a combination of offense and defense. First, on the defensive end, with about 8:40 left in the third, Brand tried to work a post move on Yi from the left baseline. Yi, stuck with the play all the way, his lanky arms outstretched in the face of Brand, forcing him into a fade-away, off balance shot that clanked off the back of the rim. Then, at the 7:14 mark, Yi grabbed an offensive board in the paint (another 5 offensive boards for Yi last night, whose offensive rebound rate was among the bottom for power forwards int the league last year). With Brand guarding him, Yi then worked a spin move, squaring himself with the front of the rim in the paint, extending his right arm over Brand, for a soft lay-in and the score. About 30 seconds later, Brand was cheating on defense, coming over to double Rafer Alston in the corner, giving Yi some space to catch the pass at the baseline and dunk it.
Victory is the increasing court awareness for Terrence Williams. Last week, I thought Williams, the rookie known for his all-around game and who talks about how much joy he gets from dishing an assist, was a bit too fancy with some of his passes. In his game against Boston in Newark, Williams didn’t recognize exactly how fast and effective Boston’s defense could be, turning the ball over with some careless passing. Last night, Williams was locked in. The scoring was great, but his anticipation of plays was even better. At a number of moments in the second half, Williams anticipated some lazy passing by the Sixers, intercepting the ball at the top of the key and going all the way to the other end for the tomahawk jam. Some of his passes were even more spectacular. With about 1:13 left in the third, Williams got the tip of the jump ball and started to streak into a fast break with Courtney Lee and Jarvis Hayes to his right. Williams in one fluid motion, turned his back to the basket, and passed the ball over-his-head style to the streaking Lee for the finish.
Then, at around the 4:00 mark in the fourth, Twill was at the three point line while Jason Smith of the Sixers cheated on Yi high along the baseline. Yi went backdoor on Smith (moving without the ball again!) and Williams fed him with a perfect pass for the dunk.
So now, this version of the Nets knows what victory looks like – even if it was a victory that didn’t necessarily mean anything in the standings. Still, I don’t know what kind of hit it would have been for this team’s morale if they went winless in the first half of October, as they waited and wondered about getting their team at close to full strength for Wednesday’s season opener against the Timberwolves. As we saw last night, victory isn’t necessarily who’s on the court – it’s who’s executing on the court.