I’m not sure if I was dreaming or just buried up to my neck in snow but I think the Nets actually won this game and finished 4-1 on the home stand. They were down 32-16 at the end of the first quarter, looked hopeless on defense throughout much of the night but played outstanding in the late third and entire fourth quarter to get a W and finish the home stand on a great note. Before this stretch of five games started I hoped the Nets would finish 3-2 but wasn’t exactly expecting it. So for them to go 4-1 and seem to turn a corner is a great sign.
The beginning of this game got off to an ominous start as the Nets struggled on both ends of the floor. They were down 16 at the end of 1 and frankly this is a game they would have lost earlier in the season. The biggest problems in the first two quarters were offensive execution and lapses on defense. Frankly the offense was hard to watch as there were countless possessions where the shot clock wound down under 10 and they took an awful shot (that sometimes actually went in, even when Johan Petro took it). That was the biggest reason why they scored just 42 points in the first half. On defense it was a combination of the Nets offering no resistance and the Grizzlies shooting lights out that led to an 11-point Memphis lead at the half.
One of my keys before this game was the bench continuing to do its thing and provide the team with a spark. Well tonight thanks to Sasha Vujacic, Kris Humphries and especially Anthony Morrow, the Nets bench was better than their starters in this game. They outscored the Nets starters 56-37 and the Grizzlies bench 56-12. They were unquestionably the catalysts that led the Nets on their comeback and were tremendous in all phases of the game.
The best player on the entire team came off the bench tonight and that was Anthony Morrow. I know Avery said he wants to continue to bring the sharpshooter off the pineso he doesn’t mess with the team’s winning ways, but if the former Georgia Tech product keeps playing like this, the Coach might have to start him to maximize his minutes. Morrow had 19 points on 8-12 shooting and once again hit some huge shots down the stretch to propel the Nets to this victory. I knew before the season that Morrow could shoot the ball but scoring like this has been a pleasant surprise.
Stopping Rudy Gay was another thing that I thought would be a key in this game and the Nets didn’t exactly contain him (22 points on 10-18 shooting), but they did limit his free throw attempts. Gay had 22 points but he had to work for them and only got to the line twice in the entire game. When you’re dealing with a big-time scorer, it’s critical to limit their free throws because it allows them to rest when they get to the line. Although Gay had a good night, he didn’t get many free points.
Although they were up 5 with under a minute to go and the Grizzlies had some chances to tie the game, the Nets were able to make their free throws when they needed to, especially Brook Lopez and Devin Harris. The team’s two best players were a combined 10-28 from the field but they were 9-10 from the line and made every big foul shot in the final minute. This was a night when the bench dominated but the Nets still needed their best players to step up in crunch time.
The disparity from the three-point line was one of the key reasons that the Nets were able to prevail and get this win. The Grizzlies were a miserable 2-12 from downtown while the Nets made 9 of 17 three’s, good for 52.9 percent. Not surprisingly at all, “The Machine” and Morrow combined for 6 of those 9 treys and if these two keep their hot shooting up, the Nets will continue to play well.
This team is clearly playing their best basketball of the season and I just hope it continues. Every time they’ve played a few good games this season, they’ve frustratingly fallen back into what’s gotten them in trouble and lost a few in a row. With two winnable games at Indiana and Milwaukee this weekend, it would be great to see them continue this hot streak and actually put together an extended run. Either way this team is becoming fun to watch again and I’m actually starting to look forward to Nets games again…