Nets 101, Magic 88: The Nets Are Going Back to the Playoffs
After losing three of their last four games in the final week of the regular season, the Brooklyn Nets entered their 82nd game needing a win against the Orlando Magic and an Indiana Pacers loss to the Memphis Grizzlies to overcome their half-game deficit and re-take the Eastern Conference’s final playoff seed. A win at home against the Magic was an absolute-must in any Nets playoff scenario - before the Pacers even factored into the discussion - and in the team’s biggest game of their 2014-15 season, it was rookie Bojan Bogdanovic who carried the offense with his career-high 28 points in a 101-88 victory over the Orlando Magic.
The first quarter began as a battle of the teams’ opposing bigs, with the Orlando frontcourt of Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson splitting 16 points and the Nets’ bigs of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young scoring 12 in the first frame. Orlando opened up a nine-point lead that dwindled to five after the first quarter - and four at the half - as Bojan Bogdanovic came out firing for 15 of Brooklyn’s 25 second quarter points. The Nets shot just under 50% from the field in the first half but 4/13 from the three-point line, with nine free-throw attempts and a -8 disparity in paint points compared to Orlando.
The Brooklyn offense was determined to generate free throws coming out of halftime, as the first four field goal attempts in the third quarter were classified as layups, according to NBA.com. The Nets would get to the free-throw line 11 times in the quarter alone, and needed another seven points from Bogdanovic to tie the game at 75 after three quarters.
Vucevic continued to dominate the Nets defense and Brook Lopez, submitting another nine points in the third to increase his total to 23. Nets head coach Lionel Hollins left no stone unturned as he searched for lineup combinations that could somehow slow the Orlando center yet score competently on the other end, eventually running out a Deron Williams/Jarrett Jack/Joe Johnson/Mason Plumlee/Brook Lopez lineup that had appeared in only 22 minutes (and 44 possessions) over the 2014-15 season, per NBA Wowy, and that elicited this great tweet from John Schuhmann.
That lineup lasted a little more than two minutes and netted a -1, until Lopez gave way to Thaddeus Young in between Plumlee’s four-point play (see video above). Plumlee’s quickness and athleticism around the rim infused the Nets with a much-needed spark in the fourth quarter, with his patented reverse dunk on the and-one, and in holding Vucevic to a 1/4 shooting mark in the final period. Jarrett Jack added three three-pointers but was yanked after his sixth attempt in favor of Bojan Bogdanovic, and the Nets finished the game on a 16-6 run that was highlighted by some vintage Joe Johnson plays (more on this in a minute), two Bojan three-pointers, and two sneaky Young layups along the baseline that increased the lead to double-digits.
Suddenly Orlando was the team standing around on offense and waiting for their center to initiate, while the Nets pushed the tempo (+4 in fast-break points overall), moved the ball (seven assists to no turnovers in the fourth), and worked it inside to open up room for shooters (+8 in paint points in the second half, +6 in three-pointers on the night). After Victor Oladipo scored on an uncontested layup with 2:30 remaining to cut the lead to 10, Orlando proceeded to go 0/3 from the field with a turnover and wouldn’t score again.
Bogdanovic capped off his career-night with another three-pointer (from the left-corner, off of a Brook Lopez pass), setting the game’s final score at 101-88. He totalled 34 minutes and converted 12 of his 17 shot attempts, scoring 28 points on 4/8 shooting from three and without drawing a single free-throw attempt. His +19 was just a point behind Joe Johnson for the team lead, and his willingness to take (and then make) big shots and move off-ball was vital for a Nets offense that needed all 43 points from its second unit. He outscored the Orlando bench alone, 28-16, and saved his best game for what could have been Brooklyn’s final outing of 2014-15.
With Indiana playing in Memphis and at a 9:30 pm EST tip-off, the Nets players turned to ESPN immediately following their game to witness the Grizzlies ironically come through big-time for former-coach Lionel Hollins, in a 95-83 victory that was close for stretches in the fourth quarter. The Pacers’ loss - their 44th of the season - put them into a tie with Brooklyn, where the Nets’ head-to-head regular season record gave them the edge and the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed.
The Nets are going to the playoffs for the third-straight season - and their first under Hollins - while making some recent history in the process (not in a good way). Their series with the East’s top-seeded Atlanta Hawks will begin Sunday at 5:30 pm on TNT, and the Nets have already received some good news from an injured contributor to their wing rotation. Stay tuned to Brooklyn’s Finest for further playoff coverage of the 2015 first-round series between the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks.
On a night when the Nets’ offense wasn’t particularly prolific, Lionel Hollins went to a couple of key after-timeout plays to generate points at opportune moments. In our first example, coming at the 2:56-mark of the first quarter and the Nets trailing 24-15, Hollins starts his bigs in a Horns set at the two elbows and Joe Johnson initiating the offense. Johnson dribble-handoffs to Deron Williams on the right side and cuts across the lane as Thaddeus Young tries to pick/turn his defender (rookie Aaron Gordon). Brook then gets two screen attempts against the rook: as Johnson crosses the lane and then as he pops up to receive the pass from Deron, acting as a delayed screen-and-roll on the catch.
The rookie gets brushed off by Brook and Johnson takes one step forward to freeze Nikola Vucevic before throwing the lob to Lopez on the roll. Lopez brings the ball down instead of finishing the lob attempt and gets grabbed by Andrew Nicholson, muscling the ball up and over the rim for the and-one layup. Judging by Brook Lopez’s reaction to receiving the Joe Johnson pass on the roll, the play might have been drawn up to get Johnson a running jumper below the free-throw line, but he makes a nice read to find Lopez going to the basket for a three-point play the old fashioned way.
The second example from Lionel Hollins utilizes some early misdirection action to generate a clean Joe Johnson three-point attempt, with the Nets ahead by six and six minutes left to the game. Mason Plumlee starts at the left-elbow by screening for Bojan Bogdanovic to cut west-to-east, as Joe Johnson sits at the right-elbow and Thaddeus Young drifts to that corner. When Bojan cuts across, Johnson makes a quick-cut to the left-elbow-extended and the Orlando defense reacts as if Joe’s coming up to run pick-and-roll with Deron, and Elfrid Payton shades his body for an expected screen to his left.
Instead, Plumlee fakes the screen on Johnson’s defender (Gordon, again) and rushes up to set a high screen to Elfrid’s right that he wasn’t quite expecting. Deron penetrates to the free-throw line and causes Vucevic to slide up, while Plumlee rolls to the basket and occupies not only his own defender (Vucevic) but also Aaron Gordon. Joe Johnson circles back towards the top of the key, catches the pass from Deron after Elfrid recovers, and then leaves the follow-through motion up for an extra second. His three-pointer puts the Nets up by seven, but Joe Johnson wasn’t quite done.
The ensuing trip down the court demonstrates some of the spacing issues that the young Orlando roster faces on a nightly basis. Deron Williams is able to go way under on Payton’s high-screen with Vucevic because of the rookie’s shaky jumper, and Orlando is unable to get anything going towards the middle of the court on Vucevic’s roll or with Gordon lurking baseline. So the Magic go to Plan B and swing the ball to the right, and get a switch off of a side-screen that leads to an Andrew Nicholson post-up on Joe Johnson. Thaddeus is free to flash the double and roam off of Gordon, and gets the steal that leads to a stalled transition trip.
Joe Johnson finishes off the possession again, but looks originally to Thaddeus Young in the post against Victor Oladipo. Young can’t get position and backs off with 10 seconds left to the shot clock, allowing Johnson to go one-on-one with Nicholson on the clear-out. Oladipo doesn’t bother following Young through the lane, yet also doesn’t step up to challenge Johnson’s pull-up jumper as he lulls his defender to sleep on a couple of crossovers before rising up. The follow-through is again left dangling after a crucial Joe Johnson jumper, while the Magic managed just six points over the final NINE minutes of the game. That’s just mean, Joe.
After the “get the ball to Bojan and watch him bail out the offense with a step-back jumper” play, Lionel Hollins’s ATO sets were a solid secondary option in Brooklyn’s season-ending 101-88 win over the Orlando Magic. The Nets scored on three of five post-timeout opportunities on the night - though their first was less of a play-call and more of a Brook Lopez high-post-up - and will need to continue executing their sets at a high level in a first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks. Let’s hope Lionel Hollins has more wrinkles ready for Sunday’s Game 1 in Atlanta.