Two nights ago, the Nets were thrashed by an Orlando Magic team that shot 62% and poured in 139 points. In Cleveland, without Brook Lopez, the team’s highest scorer per game, or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the rookie that held LeBron James to zero points in the fourth quarter last week, Brooklyn’s prospects looked admittedly dim. Against a full-strength Cavaliers team that nearly have as many losses as the Nets do wins, Brooklyn struggled early on as the offense relied entirely on Shane Larkin and Thaddeus Young.
Despite Bojan Bogdanovic losing a contact lens en route to him, Henry Sims, and Wayne Ellington shooting a combined 1-9, the Nets actually led 7 minutes into this game. This, of course, was not meant to last. James, who moved into sole possession of 12th place in points all-time, tossed 5 assists and Channing Frye finished a perfect 3-3 from the field to push Cleveland up 29-22 at the end of one quarter.
A quick 8-2 by the bench unit helped Brooklyn cling close for a moment, mostly in thanks to Chris McCullough and Thomas Robinson’s energy and second-chance efforts, as they scored 6 and 4 in the quarter respectively. And yet, in the modern NBA, the game’s momentum completely swung from behind the three-point line. With 7 minutes left in the half, the Nets trailed just 38-33; but after back-to-back threes courtesy of J.R. Smith + Kevin Love, the game would never be so close again.
At the half, the Cavaliers were 7-20 from three. The Nets? 0-11. That, my friends, is what we call the difference.
The second half brought more sleepwalking, sloppy turnovers, and a general dislike for the very sport they played. Although Larkin broke the goose egg from downtown, the Nets would have to claw back through defensive intensity and hustle. To which they said: “Hm, about that…”
Although the Cavaliers managed just 18 points through three quarters from the bench, news that would typically be optimistic for any opposing NBA team, four of their starters had hit double figures by its conclusion (Smith with 8 was the lone exception). Even with Bogdanovic turning the corner scoring-wise (14 points), the game was still too far gone — a sobering thought considering their competitive nature against this team just one week ago.
If the Nets lose by 20 points to Cleveland, did Sean Kilpatrick really not score 10+ points for the first time in 11 games?
There would be no comeback, no stiffing of James by a rookie, and no waxed poetic — just the cold, hard truth: this is a bad basketball team. This a 22-win team that can barely function at times when they’re at full power, much less when Young or Lopez sit out. With the season’s finale finally in sight, these type of outcomes are certainly in play for every one of their last 7 games.
With just one potential moral victory on the calendar left tomorrow against the Knicks, hopefully Lopez and Hollis-Jefferson are rested for one last limp hurrah.