In the waning moments of Saturday night’s disappointing loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Nets interim head coach Tony Brown demonstrated an ability to control late-game scenarios, giving the Nets the opportunity to pull out a gritty win.
Sometimes, the ball improbably goes in. Still, in a season where so many games got away, it’s good to see the Nets execute down the stretch.
Here’s the last few coverages and plays that might represent the Nets’ interim head coaches best work to date in what should have been a win.
Scenario 1: Tied at 100, 19.9 seconds on the clock.
Brown made a key personnel change. He lifted Brook Lopez from the game and inserted the fleet-of-foot Thomas Robinson. The results speak differently, but Brown made the right move.
Context: in the fourth quarter, the Pelicans moved Anthony Davis to the center spot and the team caught fire. The slower Lopez struggled on two fronts: Lopez had trouble meeting Davis away from the rim often giving Brow a makeable jumper; and he lost the flaring Davis while trying to contain the ball handler on a pick-and-roll.
Coverage: Switch everything. By taking Lopez out of the game for Robinson, they had the personnel to switch every pick-and-roll. Switching helps the team deal with the Davis jumpers and rolls to the rim that plagued Lopez earlier in the game.
Predictably, Davis set a pick for Holiday, Wayne Ellington kept with Davis, and Robinson found himself alone on Jrue Holiday. Robinson proved quick enough to prevent Holiday from getting to the rim, and Holiday launched a contested step back three that unfortunately found its way through the hoop.
In this instance, Holiday just hit a tough shot. It was not an easy look.
Scenario 2: 103-100, Nets ball with 9.3 seconds on the clock.
The Nets advanced the past half court via timeout, so there’s plenty of time to draw a play for a two-pointer if they think they can get a good look.
Context: Thaddeus Young, who had feasted on the Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson the last few trips on the court (in another smart call by Brown to keep feeding him), would certainly be an expected recipient of the ball — and Alvin Gentry wisely substituted Anderson for Dante Cunningham.
The Play: Joe Johnson sets up at the weak side elbow and sets a screen for Thaddeus Young as separate action occurs on the strong side. As Cunningham struggles to get over the pick, Young stops on a dime and screens Johnson’s man, the undersize Toney Douglas, as Johnson flares out for a deep but uncontested three.
The Nets screen the screener, and with the threat of a two-pointer in play, the Nets take advantage and convert a clean look. Tie game.
Scenario 3: 103-103, Pelicans ball with 6.9 seconds on the clock.
The Pelicans advance the ball again via timeout, and Brown once again goes with quicker personnel and the instruction to switch everything.
Context: Switching here gives the Nets’ big men license to be more aggressive. If a pick occurs, the ballhandler must make a quick decision.
Coverage: Again, the Nets switch on the Davis-Holiday pick-and-roll. Robinson attacks the pick aggressively and jars the ball loose. Holiday is left in a scramble and launches a well-contested fade away two… that goes in, because it’s just that season.
After an incredibly close half-court fling from Johnson, that was all she wrote for the Nets. On offense, the Pelicans had no answer after their initial post-timeout action while the Nets put together a nifty screen-the-screener play to tie it up. On defense, the Nets guess right and put in the right personnel… the Pelicans just got two tough makes from Holiday.
In lost seasons like this, that’s the way things tend to go. More succinctly, that type of loss just sucks. But it doesn’t mean we can’t recognize a strong effort down the stretch.