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:
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.