Gortat, Sessions, Porter, Thornton, Sessions, Thornton, Sessions, Porter, Gortat — bam! 20-0 in a blink of an eye, all but annihilating any hope of flipping the script on last night’s monstrosity against Indiana. So, if you thought the Nets were struggling without Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, wait until you see them without Thomas Robinson for extended time!
Sans Robinson, and Willie Reed who left the team last week for personal reasons, the Nets were left with just Henry Sims at the center position against the very skilled Marcin Gortat (11 points, 7 rebounds) — but, early on, that was hardly the issue in Brooklyn. The Nets, battered, bruised, and partially uninterested, sleepwalked through the first 7 minutes of game and allowed the Wizards to open up a 20-0 advantage on a perfect 9-9 from the floor.
It was bad.
As if the gentlemanly Nets were opening up invisible doors for the Wizards, they stood aside and rolled out the red carpet so that Ramon Sessions and Otto Porter Jr. could get to the rim freely. Who said chivalry is dead? Since it’s the season of experimentation, the Nets decided to let Washington shoot 70% through the first 20 minutes — just to see how it worked out in real-time. In fact, their 6-point deficit at the end of the first, at just 34-28, seemed like an absolute blessing given the aforementioned circumstances. The effort-less Nets make basketball look effortless for many opposing sides and tonight was no different.
However, those scrappy Nets, the same ones that out-hustled the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers in back-to-back games in late March, rose from the dead to cut Washington’s lead to just 2. Spurred on by Sean Kilpatrick and Shane Larkin’s 12 and 9 point tallies, the Nets actually forced turnovers (14), played basketball to their advantages, and changed the tide of the game. Undoubtedly, the Nets and Wizards were two of the league’s most disappointing franchises in 2015-2016 and, without Lopez, Young, John Wall, and Bradley Beal anywhere near the court, the defenses reached peak-preseason levels (70-69 at the half) while masquerading poorly as an NBA game.
As the game progressed, it became clear that talking about the defenses would be a hapless persuit — why repeat myself over and over and over and over forever? So, from here on out, imagine that every sentence starts with the phrase [without any opposing defense] — here, I’ll do the first one:
[Without any opposing defense], Chris McCullough dunked so hard he fell over and even Bogdanovic was on the receiving end of an alley-oop. Easy, right? OK, back to the program at hand. While Sessions tore up both Donald Sloan and Larkin (21 points, 12 assists), the Nets actually lead at points throughout the third quarter as they forced the Wizards into 14 turnovers and nearly broke 100 points before the buzzer. Although the Nets still have some incredible growing pains, it is safe to say that they’ve navigated to a young and athletic stage rather smoothly. From McCullough’s rim-rocking dunks to Hollis-Jefferson’s insane length (2 steals, 3 blocks), the Nets have some intriguing future pieces no matter what their record may state.
For every Kelly Oubre Jr. or J.J. Hickson bucket, the Nets had an answer from their rag-tag squad (5 players in double figures), but they would fall behind by 8 with 4 minutes left via an atrocious 13-21 mark from the free throw line. Eventually, the Nets ran out of gas — most notably on 2 late three-point attempts by Bogdanovic in a span of 5 seconds that both came up well short — but it was tough not to feel the slightest twang of positivity. The Nets were a team that hadn’t held a second half lead since March 26th, losing by double digits in all 8 of those games as well. Tonight, they were down 20-0 and it could’ve gotten far, far uglier. They fought, they battled, they lead — and although it’s an all-too familiar altruism from ghosts of coaches past, it was noteworthy even if the final score isn’t.
It was nice.
With nothing but moral victories and new contracts to play for, the Nets easily could’ve thrown in the towel down 20. Instead, they dunked, blocked, and ran the floor like a team with a potential future budding at the seams. Ultimately, they tried for 48 minutes, so you know what?
That’s good enough for me.
The stats: 14 PTS, 5-10 FG, 6 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 3 BLK, 0 TOV
At this stage of his career, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the glue that keeps Brooklyn together; he’s the guy that does all the small things correctly — and that’s perfectly fine. It’s no coincidence that the Nets’ rare successes in the last month have been with Hollis-Jefferson on the court and that trend continued tonight. Against the Wizards, he did a little bit of everything as Brooklyn’s swiss army knife and, with his rookie season nearly in the books, looks all the part as a budding cornerstone for the franchise.
His 3 steals and 2 blocks served as some of Brooklyn’s only legitimate attempts at defense — a more than welcomed addition alongside Lopez, Young, and whatever future pieces they manage to scrounge up.
And, hey, he even hit some mid-range jumpers.