Nets 106, Cavaliers 98: The Lopez-Plumlee Combo
Yeah, that just happened. Taking on the red-hot Cavaliers who have won eight of their last nine games, Brooklyn stood up to the East’s second seed and came away victorious 106-98 behind a huge effort from the bench.
54 of the Nets’ 106 points (over half) came from the pine, with Bojan Bogdanovic scoring 18 points on 7-12 shooting in another impressive night. Jarrett Jack scored 16 in revenge game fashion while Alan Anderson chipped in 13. Earl Clark made his Nets debut in the second half and scored a quick seven points on three deep jumpers, a pleasant surprise from the vagabond tweener.
The starting five wasn’t vacant of big nights, however. Brook Lopez scored 20 points and grabbed nine boards and Joe Johnson had one of his best games in some time, scoring 20 as well while dishing a Nets career-high nine dimes.
Brooklyn had few answers for Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and LeBron James, who combined for 68 of Cleveland’s 98 points, but the “big three” couldn’t carry the Cavs to a W on this night.
Cleveland jumped to a 7-2 start before the Nets responded with their three-point shooting to keep pace offensively. Scoring was the theme of the night for both teams, as little defense was being played. Early turnovers were keeping the Nets in the backseat, until a big second quarter (yes, a big second quarter) gave Brooklyn control. After going up nine, Cleveland would do what Cleveland does and cut the deficit to a slim margin at the break. The second half included more basket-trading, until a late 9-2 run by the Nets sealed the deal.
But what did the Nets do without Thaddeus Young in the lineup? Plus-minus king Cory Jefferson got some minutes, as did the newly acquired Clark, but neither started. Mason Plumlee started alongside Lopez, which was not a sight for sore eyes. Here’s why.
The Lopez-Plumlee starting frontcourt was a familiar sight, though not much as of late. Outside of tonight, the combo was almost completely abandoned following All-Star Weekend after being heavily used in the first half of the season. This was probably for the best, as in 33 games (293 minutes) before the break, the Nets were outscored by 17.7 points per 100 possessions with the duo on the floor. That’s… not good.
Putting Lopez and Plumlee on the floor together kills spacing and defensive mobility, two things the Nets can ill afford to play games without. To no surprise, the two were ineffective together against the Cavs in the spurt minutes they played together to start the first and third quarters. The Nets were -5 with both in the game, so +13 otherwise. Once either one or the other took a seat however, everything opened up for Brooklyn. Drivers were met with much less resistance when attacking the rim. The Nets were able to scramble defensively and manage just fine on the glass.
With this in mind, what are the chances of seeing the Lopez-Plumlee combo retired with Young out? Well, not great. The only other options are going back to Johnson at the four - which had plenty of its own faults - or giving more minutes to Clark or Jefferson, which is one helluva gamble to make in the final stretch of a last-ditch effort to make the playoffs. Luckily, Young shouldn’t be out for much longer which hopefully means we won’t have to see Lopez and Plumlee share the floor again.