Nets 114, Raptors 109: Is it time to start believing?
Chants of Brook-Lyn could be heard through the TV in what was quite possibly the best crowd the Nets have had since last year’s playoffs. The Nets lived up to the crowd by playing an exciting game from start to finish, and ultimately walking away with a big victory.
The Nets started off the game attacking. The Raptors defense hasn’t been very good all year, but has been even worse of late, and the Nets were able to take advantage. They got into, and scored in the paint in a variety of ways. Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez pick-and-rolls were used to success early, and when that wasn’t working Deron Williams was easily able to slice past Greivis Vasquez into the lane either to get his own shot or setup someone else’s. Joe was also able to get looks in the paint by using his size advantage on Demar Derozan that was so crucial in last year’s playoff series. All the looks in the paint allowed Brook Lopez and Thad Young to crash the offensive glass, and the Nets walked away with a cool 34 first quarter points, of which 22 came in the paint.
In the most predictable news of the game, the second quarter did not go as well. Jarrett Jack came in, and the offense immediately stagnated. Jack couldn’t get in the lane against either Lou Williams or Vasquez, and the combination of Bojan, Alan Anderson, Earl Clark, and Plumlee wasn’t able to create much either. Mason played a measly four minutes before being pulled for Brook, but Brook was also stifled by the Nets second quarter woes. Deron briefly checked back in for Jarrett, but after he picked up his second foul Lionel went back to Jack. In Jarrett Jack’s 9:42 he played in the second quarter he was a -11, and the Nets had a 47.7 Offensive Rating for a Net Rating of -57.2! That is really amazing, the Nets had a crazy good 126.5 ORTG for the game, yet Jack managed to play nine minutes of sub-50 ORTG basketball.
The Nets were able to turn things around in the third quarter by going back to the starting group, and neither Mason or Jack saw any second-half minutes. The defense in the third left a lot to be desired; they frequently were late on rotations and allowed Valancunias to get open around the hoop, but they were able to make up for it on the offensive end. Deron was able to carry the Nets through the third almost single-handedly. He had 13 points on 5-8 shooting, was 3-5 from three, and had five assists. Brook Lopez’s five offensive rebounds also helped the Nets keep plays alive.
Going into the fourth the Nets were down two, but strong play from the quartet of Deron, Brook, Thad, and Joe pushed the Nets to the win. Deron hit a huge three late, Joe played great defense on Demar in the clutch, Thad had a couple huge offensive boards to go along with nine points in the quarter, and Brook carried the load with 14 points of his own.
It was an exciting finish to a great game. After not practicing yesterday, and canceling shoot-around this morning, Coach Hollins had the confidence to ride the Nets starters in the second half, and it paid off. Going into a back-to-back against the Hawks it might not look as good tomorrow, but getting one of these two games was crucial for Brooklyn. It’ll be interesting to see how Hollins manages Mason and Jarrett’s minutes going forward. Mason hasn’t been playing poorly, but with the way Brook is playing right now you want him on the court as much as possible. Deron has not been consistently good, but Jack has been consistently awful so Lionel would be wise to limit his minutes over these next couple key games.
The heavy minutes load inflated their numbers, but Brook had 30-17, Deron had 31-11, Thad had 29, and Joe dropped a quite 13-5-5 line. The four of them combined for a ridiculous 103 of the Nets 114 points. The defense wasn’t great, but the Nets came up with the much needed win. The Nets are currently sitting in seventh, 1 game up on Miami and 1.5 games up on Boston. They play next Saturday night at Atlanta.
After tonight’s win the Nets are in the midst of a 10-2 stretch, and on a six game winning streak. With the playoffs around the corner, is it possible the Nets are a hitting a stride?
This is probably the 15th time that question has been posed this year, so it is worth seeing if the Nets really might have turned things around. The wins have been unconvincing, and the losses have been blowouts, but there have been a lot more wins than losses. The Nets aren’t and don’t really have any chance at being “good,” but maybe they can be the 6th or 7th best team in the East.
First, let’s see if this stretch by the Nets is any more impressive than the ten other times this season where they’ve “turned it around.” Over the last 12 games the Nets are 10-2, and have a NETRTG per 100 possessions of +3.8, but the combined winning percentage of their opponents is only 42%. The only comparable 12 game stretch this year was from December 11th-January 3rd where the Nets went 8-4 with a NETRTG of +2.5 against teams with a combined winning percentage of 44%.
Given this information it’s fair to say this is the Nets best stretch of the season, but also that the enthusiasm should be dampened a little. Playing good ball against mediocre teams isn’t a sign the Nets have any chance against the Hawks or Cavs in the playoffs, but it would be fun to end the season on a high note.
One thing that will be pivotal for the Nets remaining playoff push is how Lionel allocates minutes. Over this 12 game stretch the starters have been playing great, but the bench hasn’t improved much. Brook has averaged an all-star level 25-10 with a NETRTG of +9.7. Deron has been inconsistent, but managed to average 14-8 with a NETRTG of +7.5. Joe has been the least impressive of the starters, but has averaged 14-5-4 with a NETRTG of +4.1. Alan Anderson and Markel Brown have been the two impressive role players, shooting 42% and 38% from three with NETRTG’S of +11.0 and +7.1 respectively. Thad’s averages of 14-6 don’t leap off the page, but his +11.0 NETRTG in 33 MPG shows how awesome he’s been for the Nets.
Those six are clearly playing great ball right now, and how much Lionel can play them without them getting to tired could determine the Nets playoff fate. If they’re able to keep playing at a high level under extended minutes the Nets should be able to get the 7th seed despite the challenging upcoming schedule. Also, even if it is only a game or two it would be fun to see the Nets come away with a playoff victory.
The Nets are not close to the contender they hoped to be, and not even as good as last year’s team. They are playing their best basketball of the season, and are consistently exciting for the first time all year. These next couple weeks should be fun; the Nets success has made the playoff push and possible appearance way more interesting than anyone was expecting.