How did the Nets manage to beat the streaking Thunder?
I must admit, it can get tiresome covering Nets games. There’s just not always that much to it. The Nets are bad. Really bad. And, unfortunately, most of that has to do with one thing: the talent level of the roster. And since the Nets aren’t going to be able to do much to improve their roster any time soon, it gets rather depressing; watching the team try to do something, anything, to beat one of the 27 teams that are better than them.
However, as with most bad teams, there comes a time in the season where something remarkable happens. The pieces fall right, and the bad team somehow beats a good team. In this case, a really good team. It shouldn’t mean much – good teams have off nights, bad teams have good nights – but there’s something about this game that stuck out to me. This was one of the Nets’ 12 wins this season that somehow didn’t seem like sheer luck. The Thunder played well, and the Nets played well. And they won by ten. TEN.
Could it be, that even with this shambles of a roster, there is a spark hidden underneath that could be ignited? Is that what happened with this win? Remember, the Nets still have no incentive to tank. Any hidden gem that could help them win more games and give Boston less of a chance of winning a top pick would be most welcome here. Could it be, that with the right coach (*cough* David Blatt, *cough*), the Nets could pull off some kind of D-leaguer showcase, similar to the way Coach Popovich somehow manages to get average players to play well under his system?
The first, most obvious reason for the Nets’ win against the Thunder was Brook Lopez, who did what he should always be able to do – dominate the game. He finished with a monster 31 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 blocks, and had a Net Rating of 36. Meaning that, when he was on the floor, the Nets averaged 36 points more than the Thunder per 100 possessions.
Most importantly, Brook didn’t settle for jump shots (which used to be money, but have been falling short recently), and took it to the hole more often. He also positioned himself very well for offensive rebounds and tip-ins, and made 9-of-10 free throws. And sure, NZer Steven Adams was out of this game, so Lopez had Kanter on him all night, but that’s how a star player should react when he has a favourable match-up. Plus, it’s not like Kanter didn’t try. He tried. Just watch this video. This is the Brook Lopez we all know and love, and the man who would have made the All-Star game, had he been more consistent over the last few months.
Lopez’s play sparked confidence in the rest of the team, and for once they actually tried to pass the ball, and inject some hustle into their veins:
That’s not to say the Nets didn’t make plenty of mistakes. Perhaps the worst of all being this ill-advised pass by Willie Reed in the final six seconds of the first quarter, which turned out just about exactly how you’d think it would:
Basketball 101: Making sure you get the last shot of the period when you have the chance.
But despite the typical dumb mistakes, the Nets showed uncharacteristic willingness to dive for loose balls, force turnovers, and snatch up rebounds that lead to more possessions and more opportunities. This is vital if a team that has the third worst TS% in the league is to win.
Shane Larkin swoops in for the steal, Wayne Ellington doesn’t know what he’s doing and defends his own teammate (Bogdanovic), but Thad Young is perfectly placed for the offensive rebound an the layup.
KD tries to get the best of Young, but loses the handle, leading to an uncommon Nets fast break.
This. This is what teams with bad rosters need to do. This is why coaches like Carlisle and Popovich can turn a team of mostly average players into winners. This is how Steve Kerr turned the Warriors from first-round duds into World-class champions within a year. Players like Ellington, Bogdanovic, and Larkin need to capitalize on their strengths and reduce the cost of their weaknesses with the ultimate aim of being able to win more games and therefore have more fun. This game didn’t prove that Tony Brown is a star coach (I highly doubt he is), but just goes to show that if Brown can get the Nets to actually try, they can win.
Sure, Brooklyn caught fire late in the game and couldn’t miss (especially from three, where they shot 8-of-17, despite being notoriously terrible on the season), which could be perceived as luck. But, if you know this team, you know how bad they are when they have a chance to win a game. Confidence definitely played a major role in that string of tough shots, the same way it does for teams like the Warriors. This confidence stemmed from Lopez, ball-movement, and each player working hard for extra possessions.
Bogdanovic sucks in two defenders and Joe Johnson hits a loooong three with 54 seconds left in the game.
Bogdanovic seals the game with his fourth three of the night. This is why he should be a specialist.
So could the Nets do this again? I sure hope so. This was about the only win this season in which I thought the Nets convincingly outplayed the other team on both ends of the ball. If Tony Brown wants to prove he can coach, he needs to hit on everything that went right in this game and drill it into them to do it again and again. I said it last week: the keys are in trusting Lopez, Young, and Joe Johnson, and allowing the other players to stick to what they’re good at. That’s how this game went down. And look what happened. Since when have you seen a four factors box like this one for the Nets?
This post also appears on Jasmine’s blog, nbarambler.com.