Game 5 Recap: Nets 97, Hawks 107

“Nets almost had them.”

That’s the text I received from my father moments after the Hawks took Game 5 of their first-round series with the eighth-seeded Nets. My response?

“Nets never had them.”

There is credit due to Brooklyn. Role players have stepped up in the biggest of moments, putting up big numbers with some Nets stars slacking. The team’s rotation has been shortened to roughly eight players, with seven of them playing 25+ minutes in this latest loss. Lionel Hollins has further embraced small-ball, properly made adjustments and has one a relatively good job in this series. But the Nets aren’t the Hawks, nothing close to them.

And that’s okay, but saying the Nets almost had them? Sure, it was a close game down the wire, but not once in those 48 minutes did it feel like Brooklyn had any sort of control. The Nets hung on in the final quarter after trailing by double-digits for the entirety of the game because Joe Johnson started making contested threes, Alan Anderson had made everything he’s put up, Jarrett Jack started making everything he put up and the Hawks made a few uncharacteristic mistakes. The Nets winning two games in this series may not have been a fluke, but it wasn’t 100% real, either.

Is the series over? No. It’s basketball - crazier things have happened. Stepping away from the pessimism, things are all but clear five games into a series, so here’s what’s worth focusing on as we head to Game 6 in Brooklyn:

  • Joe Johnson’s defense on Paul Millsap in small-ball lineup has been solid. Millsap hasn’t been 100% in this series, and Johnson can give up open three-point looks to the big man, but Thaddeus Young’s -25 should say all that needs to be said about how successful Johnson-at-the-four has been, especially defensively. Hollins should rely heavily on this in Game 6.
  • The Nets should be petrified over Al Horford’s showing in Game 5. Unlike Deron Williams in Game 4, (more on this later) Horford’s ridiculous performance is far more indicative of his abilities than the rest of his series. Late in G5, Jeff Teague and Horford ran their patented pick-and-pop that NBA teams have been killed by all season long but the Nets have dealt with easily a couple times - both resulting in Horford jumpers that all but sealed the game for ATL. Outside of this stretch, Horford looked great throughout, scoring 20 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. If his play carries over into Game 6, Brooklyn can kiss the series goodbye.
  • Fatigue could start playing a factor soon. The Nets have been tweeting that their average age is among the youngest of all postseason teams, but most of those young guys - Markel Brown, Mirza Teletovic, Darius Morris, Cory Jefferson, Jerome Jordan - don’t play. The Nets’ 27.1 average age is actually 29 when you only average in players who played over 10 minutes in Game 5. This wouldn’t be a big issue if Hollins rested his older big-minute guys during the regular season, but he never did. Energy hasn’t seemed to hurt the Nets yet, but it’s something to look out for on Friday.
  • Game 5 Deron Williams is the real Deron Williams. Game 4 Deron Williams was a fluke. Sorry. Williams shot under 40% from the field this season. He played under 70 games. His free throw rate hovered around last year’s mark, Williams’s lowest since 2007. Good Deron Williams isn’t Deron being Deron. Deron is Deron when he goes 2-8 from the field, is a -10 and sits out crunch time in favor of Jarrett Jack.
  • Is the Hawks bench ever going to show up? It almost feels like the Nets are sitting on a ticking time bomb here. Mike Scott, Dennis Schroeder and Kent Bazemore were all solid regular-season contributors but whenever they’ve checked into a game in this series, Brooklyn pumped its fist and sang hallelujah. Look at Atlanta’s individual on/off point differentials during this series: hawks
    Brooklyn’s went under Schroeder screens and surrounded him on his takes to the rim, leading to missed shots and lots of clear signs of inexperience. Mike Scott can’t make a shot and is getting killed defensively, ditto for Kent Bazemore. Bazemore is 0-10 from deep. 0-for-10. It may not matter whether or not the Hawks’ bench can get back on track,because Mike Budenholzer has already begun keeping these struggling youngsters out of the rotation. Coach Bud played his starters for all but 20 seconds of the fourth quarter, a twist to his usual substitution pattern. This shortened rotation will likely make an appearance once again in Game 6.
  • Alan Anderson is the Nets’ best scorer, apparently.



Game 4 Recap: Nets 120, Hawks 115 (OT)

The Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks needed overtime to decide Game 4’s winner, as both teams took turns moving the ball for open looks on offense, but the Nets relied on Deron Williams’s steady hand and shot-making skills to even up their first-round series at two games apiece following a 120-115 victory. Williams led the Nets with 30 points and seven assists (to two turnovers), and grabbed five rebounds, collected three steals, and shot 13/25 from the field while playing all-but seven minutes for the Nets, and shook off any talk of tendinitis. Brook Lopez provided the secondary scoring with 26 points (on 19 shots) and 10 boards, and Joe Johnson added 17 points (on 16 field goals), five assists, and six rebounds, but Deron put his stamp on tonight’s game early.

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Game 3 Recap: Nets 91, Hawks 83

It wasn’t pretty, but the Nets came away with a home win over the Hawks 91-83 to turn this into a 2-1 series. The game was about as sloppy as you’ll find a postseason matchup, with 30 combined turnovers, neither team eclipsing 39% shooting from the field and just one quarter in which a team scored 25 points or more.

That would be the Nets in the first, when they zoomed out of the gates to take a 31-16 lead following the game’s first 12 minutes. Much like the regular season but unlike this series through two games, Brooklyn regressed from its smoking hot start to get a beating of its own in the second quarter. This time Atlanta held the Nets to 16 points, but still trailed by seven at halftime. After another low scoring quarter for both teams, the Nets opened up a massive 18-0 run branching the third and fourth quarters to take control coming into the home stretch. A couple of timely baskets kept Atlanta at bay and the Nets would hang on to win Game 3 of the series.

As far as actual analysis goes, it’s tough to make that work for this game. Really good shooters missed a lot of open shots. Really good catch-and-finishers bobbled the ball often. Some specifics: Game 3 was Kyle Korver’s 17th game making one or fewer field goals on eight or more attempts. He’s played in 954 games over his career. DeMarre Carroll led the Hawks in scoring with 22 points. Joe Johnson went 2-7 from deep, with most of those misses looking like he forgot his own form. To put it simply, this was an afternoon Saturday game that went as most afternoon Saturday games go. But, there are some things we did learn:

  • Lionel Hollins has shortened his rotation further, with seven players getting over 20 minutes of floor time, three of which getting over 40 and spot minutes for Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic. Johnson (16 points, 10 rebounds, 5-17 FG), Thaddeus Young (18 points, 11 rebounds, 8-16 FG) and Brook Lopez (22 points, 13 rebounds, 7-18 FG) were the three guys playing nearly the entire game, while Deron Williams, Jarrett Jack, Bojan Bogdanovic and Alan Anderson rounded out the core group for Brooklyn. I’d express concern for grinding these guys into a quivering, exhausted heap of old, but this is going to be a short series anyway, so why not? One would think this strategy paid off in that Brooklyn’s starters manhandled the Hawks’ bench unit, except Atlanta’s starting five was a -4 and a few of their bench lineups played well. Other notables as far as the rotation goes: Markel Brown and Earl Clark are still relegated to the bench. Since the Nets just won, this likely won’t change.
  • Al Horford is still struggling to get back on track.

    See, that right there is ridiculous. The man shot 48.4% from mid-range in the regular season and 61.7% overall in the month of April.

  • Bogdanovic can still be scary good offensively, but it just seems to only happen at home. He scored 19 points in Game 3, hitting three threes and shooting 7-13 from the field with a monster dunk in the middle of it. He has to continue being dangerous for the Nets to top Atlanta again.
  • Teletovic was given another go, but still struggled to shake off the rust that accumulates when you don’t play in an NBA basketball game for three months. I want to remain hopeful that he suddenly clicks and completely changes the landscape of this series, but it’s a longshot to say the least.
  • Anderson continues to be the Nets’ most consistent force on both ends of the court. His eight points doesn’t jump off the stat sheet but he makes the Hawks pay for closing out on him too hard and has done well chasing Korver around on the defensive end.
  • Barclays Center stills fills up late in the Playoffs.


The Return of Mirza Teletovic and Other Game 2 Adjustments

The Brooklyn Nets entered Game 2 against the Atlanta Hawks looking to make adjustments after a seven-point loss in Game 1 that saw their starting center shoot just seven times and the team shoot 5/20 from the three-point line. The Nets shot a bit better from deep (8/26) in their 91-96 Game 2 defeat, looking more comfortable finding open perimeter spots against Atlanta’s defense and getting Brook Lopez more involved offensively. (17 field goal attempts). But perhaps the biggest, most tangible adjustment for the Brooklyn Nets came in the return of Mirza Teletovic to the basketball court three months to the day that his season was initially ruled over.

In a January 22nd visit to Los Angeles to play the Clippers, Teletovic left the game after experiencing a shortness of breath and was later diagnosed with “bilateral pulmonary embolus (multiple blood clots in the lungs)” at a local hospital. Mirza began working out in non-basketball activities come February and targeted an optimistic return in mid-July once he was taken off the blood-thinning medication, until his doctors allowed him to practice with the team in recent weeks. He participated in five practice sessions before Lionel Hollins removed him from the inactive list and inserted him into Wednesday’s Game 2 for just under four minutes of court time.

Teletovic went 0/2 from the field (both three-point attempts) with two rebounds, a turnover, and a -2 in his 3:50 of action, largely sharing the frontcourt with Brook Lopez. In his first possession since January, he stretched the sagging Hawks defense on a Deron Williams post-up and caught the kick-out pass to swing to Bojan Bogdanovic in the corner. Bojan missed the shot, but Paul Millsap would be reluctant to leave Mirza in the corner on the next opportunity and Deron pushed the ball for a layup. Teletovic even awkwardly stood in on a pseudo-charge/block non-call on a Jeff Teague drive and collected the rebound, then lackadaisically threw the outlet pass away which led to a Kyle Korver catch-and-shoot three.

His first shot attempt came from Joe Johnson’s penetration off the pick-and-roll and just rimmed out. Paul Millsap got caught over-helping on Johnson but was bailed out by the miss, and went back at Teletovic on the next possession that resulted in a jab-step, fall-back jumper (which knocked Mirza badly off-balance) that was also off-target. Teletovic managed to stay with him on a high-screen a couple of plays later and played his own pick-and-roll game with Deron in which he caught the end-around pass and swung it to Joe Johnson open in the corner (and with Pero Antić closing).

Teletovic’s second shift late in the third quarter was considerably shorter, due mostly to a couple of defensive miscues that led to good looks for his Hawks counterpart, “The Regional Manager” Mike Scott. Mirza kept up with Scott through two pick-and-roll attempts to begin, but ball-watched and lost his man on the along the perimeter. Scott’s three doubled the lead, and Mirza was unable to match it after Joe Johnson posted up and drew the defense to the middle on the ensuing end. On his third and final play he got hung up on a Pero Antić down-screen and let Scott get another open shot from beyond the arc, and a foul on the rebound ended his night.

Still, despite his struggles, Mirza Teletovic offered some positives to the Nets’ offense and especially their spacing from the backup power forward position. He took his two jumpers in about four minutes and had two assist opportunities on skip passes from the perimeter in his first quarter run alone, and just the threat of his range kept the defense honest enough for a Deron layup to slip through. His three-point stroke had largely disappeared in his 40 games this season, with a 32.1%-mark on almost five attempts per game (down from 39% in 2013-14 on 349 total shots), but he was still a valuable spacing threat for a team bereft of outside options.

The Nets are hoping Teletovic can bring that gravity to this series, with the Hawks yet to deviate from their “leave shooters” strategy that they’ve employed all season. Brooklyn is slowly adjusting to the Hawks’ perimeter rotations, improving their team three-point proficiency by 5% over Game 1 and finding open shooters when Atlanta’s defense again collapsed around Brook Lopez pick-and-rolls. An18-8 surge in the fourth brought the lead to a single point with 45.5 seconds remaining, prompted primarily off of some extra passing and timely takes to the basket.

Brook Lopez would have been the biggest beneficiary of an improved three-point attack, though he took on a larger role in Game 2 despite Brooklyn’s poor shooting. He stepped out for two long jumpers that trimmed the lead to seven upon each make, then received an entry pass to the post for what seemed like the first time in the 2015 playoffs. Antić went down and Joe Johnson tossed up a wedgie after Brook kicked it out to the three-point line for the catch-and-shoot. Good process, at least, in working inside-out to generate jumpers.

Much like in the second half of Game 1, the Hawks began sending weak-side help defenders to the middle on Brook Lopez pick-and-roll dives. On a made Jarrett Jack corner-three around the two-minute-mark, Joe Johnson wisely used his body to shield his defender (DeMarre Carroll) and keep his dribble alive to prevent Al Horford from leaving him completely off the screen, and delivered the pass to the corner. Kyle Korver cheats too far over in helping on Lopez and isn’t able to recover in time on the three-ball, while Jack’s 23rd point cut the deficit to one.

The Nets relied more on the outside shot in Game 2, as only 41.8% of their offense came from the paint compared to 58.7% in their opening matchup. As a result, the teams’ assist total went up not only due to the increase in three-point attempts - of which all eight made shots were assisted - but also thanks to a 14-point rise in percentage of assisted twos (to 55.6% of all made two-point field goals). Turnovers have remained an issue (16 in Game 2, 17 in Game 1) because of the Hawks’ defensive mobility and their pack-the-paint approach, which has caused the Nets to force more cross-court skips and shy away from Brook Lopez pocket-passes off the pick.

There could be a chance we don’t see a single Lopez flick-shot/post-P&R-runner all series, which would have seemed unfathomable a month ago when he won back-to-back Player of the Week awards. He’s such a skilled scorer that he can simply rely on other tricks in his arsenal to drop 20, and although he again finished fifth on the team in total touches, the Nets did a better job of finding him around the basket for more scoring opportunities. Brook will score - even if he goes through another Game 1 scenario where he has to hit the offensive boards for easy baskets - and his north/south rim-rolls should continue to suck in the Hawks defense and free up shooters.

If the Nets can take a game in this first-round series, they might have to do it from the three-point line. Through the first two games they have a clear edge in field goal percentage - 45.2% to Atlanta’s 40.8% - but trail in three-point accuracy - 28.3% to 36.1%. The Nets have made 13 total shots from beyond the arc while Kyle Korver has eight alone, and the next-highest Net is either Bojan Bogdanovic at 3/11 or Joe Johnson’s 3/14. Lionel Hollins has already re-visited Johnson at power forward in quicker lineups that, predictably, increase the shooting efficiency and pace, but at the expense of rebounding.

The answer going forward in this series is, as always, more Mirza. Teletovic solves multiple issues for the Nets by shooting solely from three (63% of his career shot attempts have come from behind the arc) and rebounding the basketball (career 11.6 rebound percentage, according to Basketball-Reference) off the bench, and could open up a lot of room for whichever center - Brook or Mason - plays next to him.

The downside, even when healthy and in shape, is his alertness and lateral quickness on the defensive end, to say nothing to his individual adjustment curve in returning to the court and against the Atlanta Hawks. However, even if he improves his playing time in Game 3 all the way up to five minutes, the Barclays Center crowd should respond anytime he touches the ball or launches from deep, and make it loud for the Hawks.

Whether Mirza Teletovic can regain his shooting touch and stamina, and play significant minutes to help the Brooklyn Nets prolong their first-round playoff series is almost an afterthought to his return to the court and from a potentially life-threatening medical situation. Hopefully Mirza can play well and the Nets take a game or two in Brooklyn, but that the injury situation doesn’t re-occur or hamper his earning potential this summer in free agency, when he inevitably re-signs with the team.

His skills seem tailor-made for the Hawks and this kind of series (ball-swings to open threes), and it’s only natural to wonder where the Nets would be at this point in the season had Mirza never bruised his hip back in early-December (maybe as high as seventh in the East!). Mirza Teletovic’s return to the rotation will present another adjustment for Lionel Hollins as the Nets return to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4, but one that should help the team adjust to the open three-point looks from the Atlanta Hawks defense.


Nets Rehash Joe Johnson at the Four in Game 2

In last night’s Game 2 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Nets head coach Lionel Hollins went back to a lineup configuration that was abandoned back in early March. With Thaddeus Young struggling on both ends of the court, Mirza Teletovic rusty after missing three months of action and Earl Clark listed as inactive, Joe Johnson spent a lot of time at power forward for the first time in a little over a month.

The Nets traded for Thaddeus Young during the All-Star break but brought him off the bench for his first eight games. With Kevin Garnett being dealt and Young needing time to get affiliated with Hollins’s schemes, Brooklyn started and heavily relied on Johnson at the four. Johnson alongside Deron Williams, Markel Brown, Alan Anderson and Mason Plumlee made up the Nets’ seventh-most played lineup on the season. The unit played 74 minutes and outscored opponents by 1.9 points per 100 possessions, allowing 4.1 fewer points than the season as a whole but surrendering rebounds at a wild rate. It collected just 41.7% of available rebounds, which would rank dead last in the league by a 6.1% margin. The grouping also turned the Nets into a fast-paced team, with a pace of 99.75 that would rank second in the NBA, and a 38.1% three-point shooting team, a 5% uptick on their season average.

Once Young jumped into the starting five, the team’s rebounding saw a return to form, the defense regressed and the Nets made their Playoffs push. But now the lineup has made a comeback early in Brooklyn’s first-round series, appearing for 13-and-a-half minutes on Wednesday night. The lineup was a -8 as a whole, playing in these increments of the game per PopcornMachine:


You’ll notice that Johnson played the four in the final 4:26 of the contest, in which the Nets made a last-ditch effort at stealing a game in Atlanta and fell a Deron Williams jumper short of overtime. The Nets played both Williams and Jack together in that run, but the most popular Johnson-at-the-four lineup of the game was Jack-Bogdanovic-Anderson-Johnson-Lopez, which appeared for about six minutes. The Nets only scored .73 points per possession with this lineup, didn’t attempt any corner threes, but rebounded well against a Hawks team that isn’t known for crashing the boards. The pace wasn’t all that quick and the Hawks managed to score 1.09 points per possession.

So what does all this mean? For starters, it’s too small a sample size in the context of this series to draw many conclusions from the stats above. However, the Nets being able to rebound despite the smaller lineup is a plus if Hollins plans on using it in Games 3 and 4. The lineup can also open up more for Lopez in theory, but in his 11:18 of floor time with Johnson at the four he got just two good looks that weren’t thanks to an offensive rebound. Brooklyn’s poor three-point shooting has a lot to do with this, but with how well their small-ball lineup shot the deep ball in the regular season it’s difficult to expect the Nets’ rough shooting to continue if they continue utilizing this lineup. With all this in consideration, I’m all for continuing to play Johnson at the four despite the +/- numbers, if only to see if a larger sample in this series paints a different picture.

But whether or not Johnson playing the four works well against the Hawks or any other team, it’s still a great thing. Lionel Hollins arrived in Brooklyn with the label of failing to adapt to the current NBA landscape. Many thought he was too reliant on traditional lineups of two non-shooting bigs, not willing to be even a bit progressive in his coaching. Yet here he is playing a long-considered shooting guard at the four in the heat of a Playoffs series. It doesn’t solidify Hollins as the Nets’ coach of the future, nor will it win this series, but it’s a good sign for the franchise moving forward.


Game 2 Recap: Nets 91, Hawks 96

The Brooklyn Nets were oh so close to stealing a game in Atlanta, but fell just short after a potential game-typing jumper by Deron Williams went in-and-out with ten seconds remaining. The look followed a wild Nets comeback in the final minutes of the contest, going from nine down with under five minutes remaining to having a terrific chance at sending the game into overtime. The chance was blown by Williams, capping off a rough 1-7 shooting night from him, and so the Nets head to Brooklyn for Game 3 on Saturday at 3 p.m down 0-2 in the series.

The game began similarly to Game 1, with the Nets getting run out of the building. Atlanta took a quick double-digit lead, only to have Brooklyn fight back to keep within striking distance heading into the second. It was then that like in Game 1, Brooklyn went on a run, this time taking a slight lead behind a 12-0 run. The Hawks would battle back to regain control heading into halftime, however. The third quarter was a back-and-forth three-point shooting affair until the Hawks used their patented quick spurts to pull away by a decent margin, but not far enough. The Nets stroked it from deep in the final minutes of the fourth - including one from Jarrett Jack, of all people - to get back in it.

Here are the more in-depth observations of the Nets’ Game 2, with looks at who struggled, who was on fire, some schematic twists and the heartwarming return of one Mirza Teletovic:

Thaddeus Young was awful: Likely the biggest reason Brooklyn is in the Playoffs right now, Young had his worst game as a Net in one of the biggest of moments. He finished 1-7 from the field, forcing the issue, moving with little fluidity and struggling to find good looks in Atlanta’s swarming defense. He committed three turnovers, and defensively was a trainwreck. Young fell asleep on closeouts, got scorched on the pick-and-roll and was lost in transition. The Nets somehow almost won despite this, but down the line they’d likely prefer not to have to battle through one of their key offensive cogs laying an egg.

Williams adjusting: You wouldn’t be able to tell from his box score, but Williams tried to mix it up in this one. He faked the pick-and-roll and went away from the screen a few times in Game 2 in an effort to throw the Hawks’ defense off. It didn’t really go well, but credit for trying to get creative on one of the league’s best defenses.

Start Alan Anderson: Do it. He’s shot and defended better than Bojan Bogdanovic. He’s likely the Nets’ best bet on Korver, unless Brooklyn wants to sacrifice spacing in order to stick Markel Brown on the sharpshooter. Speaking of…

No Brown or Earl Clark: Brown didn’t get any minutes in Game 2 after starting in Game 1. Ditto for Clark, who struggled in his few minutes off the pine in Game 1. The Nets didn’t really miss either, but there was a consequence for leaving these two out of the rotation.

Plumlee-Lopez and Jack-Williams: Lionel Hollins wasn’t forced to play these two combos, but with Brown and Clark being less-than-viable options, he didn’t have many other ways to go. In case you weren’t aware, both combinations appeared for quite a few minutes in Game 2 despite being horrid lineups throughout the regular season. The Nets were outscored by 10.3 points per 100 possessions in 661 minutes with Williams and Jack on the floor together, and 13.7 in 373 minutes of Plumlee and Lopez. Stop this, please.

Teletovic back: Mirza Teletovic returned after not donning a Nets uniform in three months due to blood clots in his lung. It was a great moment, but his play backed up my opinion of why he shouldn’t have came back until next season. He was extremely rusty - reaching at bad times, not connecting from deep, committing a silly turnover and letting a ball slip through his hands all in four minutes. I love Mirza. Love him. But unless he’s in peak form, he’ll hurt the Nets more than he’ll help them in this series.

JARRETT FREAKIN’ JACK: He didn’t miss. He refused to miss. 23 points on 9-13 shooting from the field, in a performance most people expected out of him at some point in this series. Every so often he has one of these nights, but sadly this one came in a big loss.

BROOK FREAKIN’ LOPEZ: Lopez was near perfect tonight. He got more touches in the post, some ending badly due to Al Horford’s stupendous defense, but Lopez was superb all-around. He hustled big time on the boards and defensively, ran the offense without flagrantly ball-stopping and hit some big shots late. He finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and three blocks on 8-15 shooting from the field.

Return of Joe Johnson at the four: This was a thing post-All-Star, but mostly went away after Young became a starter. This lineup played a ton of minutes tonight with Young struggling and the rotation being trimmed. Analysis on how it performed forthcoming.

Same ol’ problems: The Nets went 8-26 from downtown, many of them being open shots. The Nets committed 16 turnovers, many of them being lazy giveaways. The Nets were a mess in transition on both ends, giving up open looks and finding few of their own on fast breaks. These three things were also big issues in Game 1. This needs to change.





How the Atlanta Hawks (and Lionel Hollins) Limited Brook Lopez in Game 1

Almost immediately after the Brooklyn Nets lost to the Atlanta Hawks, 92-99, in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, the conversation turned to Brook Lopez’s effectiveness in his limited touches. Lopez tied for the team lead with 17 points on just seven shot attempts (or one more than Earl Clark), causing Hall of Famers Charles Barkley on TNT’s Inside the NBA and Isiah Thomas on NBA TV’s GameTime to get pretty animated in calling out the Nets guards for not feeding the big man more often against Atlanta.

Head coach Lionel Hollins initially dismissed the “gotta get Brook the ball!” criticism after Sunday’s game but acknowledged it the next day and, to their credit, the remaining members of the Nets’ “Big 3” recognized it as well.

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Game 1 Recap: Nets 92, Hawks 99

Could have been better, could have been worse.

The Brooklyn Nets lost Game 1 of their first-round series with the first-seed Atlanta Hawks 99-92, in what was a bizarre game. The game began as expected, with the Hawks running Brooklyn out of the building. Markel Brown took a seat early and didn’t return for the rest of the game. Atlanta’s defense stifled the Nets into an iso-centric offense bogged down by sets falling apart. The Hawks’ hand-sy defense forced six first-quarter turnovers by the Nets, and Atlanta opened up a 16-point lead.

Considering the Nets have struggled in second quarters all season long, it surprised many to see Brooklyn mount its first comeback at this point. Behind strengthened defense and Deron Williams starting to pick it up, the Nets kept the game in close range heading into the third. The second half saw the Nets pull within three, before the Hawks rode a quick 8-0 spurt to another double-digit advantage and eventually another 16-point lead. The Nets had some fight left in them though, and made a late run in the fourth that fell short with open shots missing and the Hawks percolating offensively.

Here’s the good news and bad news for the Nets heading into Game 2:

Good news

  • Brooklyn’s defense in stretches: In some spurts, mostly in the second, third and fourth quarters, the Nets’ defense looked very sound. Rotations were immediate and sharp, almost Hawks-esque in their own right. The Nets went under some Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder screens, Brook Lopez was solid as an interior presence and Alan Anderson and Mason Plumlee provided good minutes off the pine on that end. Thing is, the chances of the Nets playing this kind of defense over extended minutes are slim. There were other factors, as Horford missed pick-and-pop mid-range J’s he normally sinks, the Hawks as a whole were uncharacteristically 10-30 from deep and Paul Millsap was awful offensively after recently coming back from injury.
  • Millsap struggling: Speaking of Millsap, the Nets should be thankful that he isn’t at his peak self. Injuries stink, and Millsap is easy to love as a player and person, but if him struggling to get back into All-Star form following his time out helps the Nets then it’s worth mentioning.
  • Brook Lopez: Lopez was fantastic. He put in effort in every facet, kept the offensive flow going by actively looking for teammates, fought hard on both sides of the glass and scored efficiently. Lopez finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds on 6-7 shooting from the field.
  • Offensive rebounding: The Nets collected 12 offensive rebounds tonight with their offense being shaky for most of the night. This created a lot of good opportunities for them, and it’s something that takes advantage of one of Atlanta’s flaws as a team.
  • Deron Williams: How about D-Will looking spry? He was slow out of the gates, but began attacking the skinnier Teague in the second quarter and looked for his shot more as the game went on. He finished with 13 points on 5-11 shooting from the field and 2-4 from deep.
  • Jarrett Jack scoring: Many, including myself, expected one of those Jarrett Jack games at some point in this series. You know, when he takes his usual head-scratching mid-range jumpers but just happens to make all of them? Looks like we got an early look at that tonight, as Jack finished with 13 points on 5-8 shooting on a lot of rather questionable attempts.
  • Joe Johnson creating: Johnson had a very poor shooting night, going 0-6 from three, but dished out six assists in the contest in a great outing distribution-wise. Johnson found open shooters time and time again out of his post-ups, something the Nets should lean on more in Game 2.

Bad news:

  • Lopez’s shot count: Seven shots for Lopez? Credit to Lionel Hollins and the big man for not forcing post entry after post entry like the Nets did to start the season, but seven shots? A good part of those game on Lopez’s putbacks as well. He needs to get more touches going forward.
  • Open shots wouldn’t fall: Perhaps this isn’t of a huge concern since it would be tough to see this happening again, but the Nets couldn’t make an open shot to save their lives. Brooklyn finished 5-20 from downtown, many of those without a defender near the shooter. Threes are going to be pivotal in this series, and so the Nets have to make them at a respectable clip, especially when the Hawks are taking so much more. It wasn’t just threes, either. Shotchart_1429489925744
  • Bojan Bogdanovic: 31 minutes, 2-8 from the field, -7, two turnovers. Just an all-around rough night for Bogdanovic, who struggled keeping up with Kyle Korver, Atlanta’s leading scorer on the night with 21 points.
  • One-on-one defense: Quite a few Nets fell victim to getting beat off the dribble in one-on-one situations, even when a switch hadn’t occurred. Not a whole lot can be done here, as even at 100% effort, Jack isn’t keeping up with a speedster like Schroeder.
  • Free throws: You’re not upsetting a number one seed shooting 15-22 from the free throw line. You’re just not.
  • Stagnant offense: There’s a lot of credit due to the Hawks’ defense here, but the Nets’ offense was stagnant for a few portions of this game. After the initial set went nowhere, Brooklyn would fall back to its isolating ways and it rarely ended well. This isn’t a new problem, but the Nets have looked a lot better in this regard late in the regular season. They can’t be shaken into settling by this Hawks defense. Run another set, attack the paint aggressively, try and create for others.
  • Turnovers: 17 on the night for the Nets, many unforced. Can’t make those mistakes, especially when…
  • Transition: …you are dreadful at defending Atlanta in transition. But that was only one side of things. The Nets couldn’t score on many fast breaks of their own, despite plenty of good looks.
  • Earl Clark: I suggested he play spot minutes, but that didn’t go over well. 1-6 from the field, -11 in eight minutes. Let’s table this idea for, say, a few months.
  • Williams/Jack lineup: Hollins played this for a few minutes in this one, some in the fourth quarter, even. Why. Just why.


Three Man Weave: Playoffs Edition

It took the 82nd game of the 2014-15 season and a touch of scheduling luck, but the Brooklyn Nets successfully snuck into the playoffs and will tip off in Game One of their first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks today at 5:30 pm EST.

As is their nature, the Nets chose the more difficult route to the postseason, after sitting comfortably in the seventh spot in the standings heading into the final week of the schedule and then losing three of four to drop out of the playoff picture. A head-to-head tiebreaker over the surging Indiana Pacers gave the Nets a chance at the playoffs (as we outlined last week), provided the team could win against the Orlando Magic on the last night of the regular season and the Pacers fell in Memphis to the Grizzlies.

Bojan Bogdanovic supplied the offense against Orlando with a career-high 28 points, while the Pacers predictably struggled to score against the stingy Memphis defense and lost by double digits. Both teams finished with a 38-44 record, but Brooklyn’s regular season tiebreaker would put them into the playoffs and a first-round matchup with the (60-22) Atlanta Hawks.

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Brooklyn’s Finest Nets-Hawks Predictions

A long time ago, when we here at Brooklyn’s Finest were still full of optimism and promise for this Nets team, we made our pre-season predictions for the Nets. Hope invaded our silly heads, and of the 12 writers questioned, 10 thought the Nets would finish with at least 40 wins (including David Vertsberger’s 82 win prediction). After a season full of up-and-downs, the Brooklyn’s Finest team is not so optimistic. Here are our predictions for the round one series against the Atlanta Hawks.

Jack Moore: Hawks in four. Danny Ferry yells “F*** BROOKLYN”, Atlanta tramples Brooklyn in the first three games and then Budenholzer plays Mike Muscala 48 minutes in game four. *mic drop*

John Mazlish: Hawks in five. The Hawks are a significantly better team than the Nets, and despite their post-All-Star downturn they still look like huge favorites over this Nets team. Brook Lopez’s lack of mobility is sure to be exposed against the Hawks ball movement, and things will probably get ugly in a game or two. However, the Nets have been one of the most wildly inconsistent teams all year so I’m banking on one unexpectedly good performance, probably Game 3. In the end the Nets just haven’t shown enough this season for me to be any more optimistic than that.

Jonah Jordan: Atlanta in four. There’s going to be a point in this series where it finally clicks in Lionel Hollins head that he shouldn’t be playing Plumlee/Bropez. Unfortunately, that’ll be after he starts them in the fourth quarter in position to win the game.

Brian McNichols: Hawks in three. I predict two close losses in Atlanta followed by a trouncing in Brooklyn. Then a majority of the Nets will decide not to keep playing as Paul Pierce nods contemplatively.

Josh Koebert: I have Atlanta in five games. Iso Joe will go off against his old team in one game early in the series to the tune of 30+ to steal the lone Brooklyn victory. Aside from that, it shall be death by a thousand cuts (aka extra passes to get a better look for the Hawks because the Brooklyn defense is going to be too danged antsy to stay disciplined (looking at you whoever is going to fail at locking down Korver off the ball)). Graffiti starts popping up around the city proclaiming “Paul Pierce Was Right”. Jason Kidd leaves a bag of flaming dog poop on Billy King’s porch. Everyone gets fired.

Jeremy Briggs: This is my official prediction:

Note: Jeremy left no further comments on the matter.

Austin Reynolds: Hawks in four, but I think one of them might even be close. Maybe. Like, not too close, but a little close.

Paul Mitchell: Hawks sweep. Both Brooklyn and Atlanta finished three games over-.500 in the last two months to the season, but if Paul Millsap is relatively healthy after his April 4th shoulder injury, the Nets will again be on the wrong side of some lopsided losses (Hawks +69 points in four meetings).

Nick Huth: Hawks in Five. I’m predicting a Game 3 win for the Nets when they return to Brooklyn, fueled by Joe Johnson hitting outside shots off of some successful drive-and-kicks from Deron Williams. If the Nets can shoot 40 percent from beyond the arc in one of the games at home it might be enough to avoid the sweep. The playoff format will be kind to Brooklyn with Teletovic possibly returning, but it will only be enough of a boost to take one game off the Hawks.