Thoughts on the Game: What’s Kiki Dooling?

yi_heatAP Photo/Bill Kostroun

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While no one has ever stopped me from writing my opinions on Nets Are Scorching, I’ve always sensed that there’s been this unspoken rule about not outwardly ripping on a coach or specific coaching decisions. I get that. I’ve never been a professional coach. I’ve never played professional basketball. I’m just a guy who happens to follow the Nets, who also happens to write a blog about the Nets. It’s a lot easier for me to judge what’s right or wrong about a game-time situation 8 hours after the fact from the comfort of my living room couch.

I’m tempted to make an exception about this unspoken rule after last night’s 87-84 Nets loss to the Miami Heat, but I’ll try to honor the code and instead look at a very specific moment in the game and its aftermath. You could call this moment the turning point if you’d like. Otherwise, I’m going to do my best to withhold any value judgements. Just the facts ma’am.

At the 4:45 mark of the fourth quarter, and the Nets clinging to 80-74 lead, Kiki Vandeweghe took out Keyon Dooling, who had just converted a three-point play when he was fouled on a layup, and put in Courtney Lee, who was shooting 0-7 for the game. Over the next four and a half minutes, the Nets missed all of their field goal attempts, including two missed threes from Lee, who went on to shoot 0-9 for the night. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat, who were without Dwyane Wade for most of the game after he left in the first quarter with an injury, went on an 13-4 run to put the Nets away.

I understand that Keyon Dooling is far from an all-star, especially on a Nets team that would have won two games in a row for only the first time this season if they found a way to overcome their terrible finish. But, Dooling had come into the game at the 2:20 mark of the third and the Nets trailing 66-60. Dooling proceeded to score 10 of his 14 points during that 9+ minute stretch of play. On the aforementioned three point play, Dooling looked absolutely pumped after the foul, and his teammates seemed pumped by his performance as well.

Do you see where I’m going with this? In the game’s critical closing minutes, the guy who perhaps playing the best and providing the most energy on the team in that exact moment, was sent to the bench in favor of a guy who hadn’t hit an open shot all game. I know Courtney Lee is a part of the future of this franchise – he had a great game Tuesday night in Charlotte and I even noticed with about 90 seconds left last night he sprinted back on defense after Michael Beasley rebounded a Devin Harris shot attempt in order to stop a fast break attempt by Miami. But, I would have rather seen Dooling play out the last few minutes of the game, to see if the Nets could have put the Wade-less Heat away, in similar fashion to the way they distanced themselves from the Bobcats on Tuesday. Instead, we saw another Nets collapse. We saw the Nets lose another winnable game. We saw the Nets move one step closer to the worst of numbers in the NBA – 73, as in losses for a season, when the number 6 seemed a lot more plausible in the moment. It’s taking me every last bit of restraint to not say what I truly feel about Kiki Vandeweghe right now.

More thoughts after the jump.

  • Kiki did have a mea culpa, of sorts in the game’s final minutes. Before the Lee-for-Dooling substitution, Kiki put Yi Jianlian back into the game for Kris Humphries. Granted, Hump wasn’t doing much offensively at the time, but to his credit, he did have a +4 for the game, which meant the team was playing better with him on the floor. Yi, on the other hand was a -10 for the game. He was completely pedestrian offensively, finishing with 9 points on 3-7 shooting with 9 rebounds, but more importantly, he was a major liability defensively, especially when matched up against Michael Beasley. Beasley is a nice young player, and if I was building a team, I would certainly rather have him as my 4 instead of Yi, but Yi was an absolute embarrassment on the defensive end, allowing Beasley to score at will en route to 23 points on 10-17 shooting (and 11 rebounds). With Wade out, the Nets should have been able to key in on Beasley very easily since Miami didn’t have many other options offensively. But Yi just wasn’t quick enough to stick with Beasley, and didn’t seem to understand that the Miami forward has the ability to stick a jumper from time to time. So after putting Yi back in during the fourth, he was quickly pulled after missing a jumper and allowing another postup bucket to Beasley. At least Kiki was paying attention to his frontcourt.
  • Should be noted that Humphries had a fantastic block on Dorrell Wright in the fourth that started a fast break and led to the Nets regaining the lead when Brook Lopez slammed home an alley-oop pass from Terrence Williams. Humphries was also one of the only guys trying to take the ball inside in the game’s final minutes, but he was rewarded for his bravery by getting his shot blocked by Beasley in a questionable non-goaltending call with about 30 seconds left.
  • More fun with substitutions. Devin Harris looked unstoppable in the first quarter, scoring 12 points in an assortment of drives and short jumpers, abusing former Net Rafer Alston. At one point, I thought he had a 30-point night in him. Kiki took Harris out with about two minutes left in the first to give him his early rest for the game, and didn’t reinsert him until about 5 minutes left in the second. I know it’s the second end of the back-to-back, but does Devin Harris really need to sit for 8 minutes when he’s on pace to having his best game of the season?
  • Josh Boone was rewarded for his spectacular play late on Tuesday night with 9 minutes last night. At least I didn’t have to watch Tony Battie brick 18-foot jumpers.
  • Speaking of bricks, no team with Rafer Alston as their point guard is going to do jack squat in the playoffs. I’ll give him credit for a crafty defensive play on Devin Harris at the end of the game, where he essentially backed away while Devo was trying to post, messing up Harris’ rhythm, Alston otherwise looks absolutely done and I’m certainly not sorry about his loss.