Recap: Nets 87, Hawks 101 - A Reason for Optimism
It was much of the same for the Nets on Wednesday in Atlanta. 19 turnovers. 5-21 from three point land. Defensive collapse en route to allowing 60 second-half points on 59 percent shooting. Not exactly a winning recipe.
The first half was promising, though. After a disjointed start to the game, the Nets used a 20-10 run to close out the second quarter with a 43-41 advantage. Brooklyn stifled the Hawks’ typically crisp ball movement and kept them in check behind the arc.
But did anyone expect this to last? The Nets kept it close into the beginning of the 4th quarter, though the writing was on the wall. Brooklyn’s turnovers piled up and Atlanta’s ball movement made its triumphant return. Dennis Schroder stepped up in the absence of Hawks sniper Kyle Korver. He finished with 20 points and was a spark-plug for the Hawks in the 3rd quarter as he made 5 shots, 3 of them from beyond the arc.
The Nets stagnated on offense in the 2nd half and yet again failed to produce a consistent second option alongside Brook Lopez. Lopez was fantastic, finishing with an efficient 27 points on 16 shots. This was mitigated, however, by the combination of Joe Johnson and Jarrett Jack, as they produced a combined 11 points on 20 shots. Thad Young was basically Thad Young. Solid statline (14 pts.,10 reb.), but he disappeared down the stretch as the Nets completed their collapse.
The result was yet another double digit loss, as the Hawks prevailed by a final score of 101-87.
As difficult as it may be to believe, a silver lining exists. It began with this summer’s draft; a draft that saw the Nets and the Hawks go in opposite directions.
Atlanda, holding the Nets’ 15th overall selection and looking to plug the hole left by the departure of DeMarre Carroll in free agency, parlayed the pick into divisive wing Tim Hardaway Jr. The hope is that his potential will be realized in a system that can make perfect use of his size, athleticism and shooting ability. However, the Hawks passed on several intriguing wing options in the draft when they made this trade, and Hardaway Jr. has yet to be active for any of the team’s 6 regular season games. I would fail to be surprised if Atlanta’s esteemed player development staff eventually molds the 23-year old into a capable starter, but at this point there is plenty of reason to doubt the Hawks’ draft-day maneuvering.
Among those potential-laden wing options that the Hawks passed on would be Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whom the Nets went on to acquire with the Portland TrailBlazers’ 23rd overall selection in what was essentially a swap for Mason Plumlee. General Manager Billy King tabbed him as the “best defender in the draft” and you won’t find many who disagree. Strength, length, footwork, quickness, instincts; all the tools are there.
In tonight’s game Rondae unpacked those tools from his toolbox and put them on display. Brooklyn’s 20-10 run to close out the 2nd quarter? It came after RHJ checked in at the 8:20 mark and played the remainder of the half. Single game plus-minus is a flawed statistic, but Hollis-Jefferson was the only Net with a positive value (+13) and it was hardly due to happenstance. He lurked in passing lanes and played suffocating on-ball defense on his way to accruing 3 steals within a three minute span. The Nets’ spacing while RHJ is on the court will continue to be an issue, his failed attempts on the fast break evoked the open court circus show that is Tony Allen, and for all of his efficiencies on defense, his off-ball awareness could still improve. But tonight Hollis-Jefferson demonstrated the impact that he can make. He completely changed the game in the 2nd quarter without scoring a single point.
The Hawks were the winners tonight and the Nets’ record this season is NSFW. A loss on Friday to the Lakers would surely be rock bottom. If you need something to hold onto, Nets fans, re-watch the final 8 minutes of the 2nd quarter. Watch as RHJ smothers Justin Holiday so wholly that Holiday was secretly thrilled when he turned the ball over. Watch as RHJ does what Wile E. Coyote never could; swallowing whole one of the NBA’s most blistering Roadrunners - Jeff Teague - as Teague attempted to drive to the basket.
There is little to be encouraged by from the Nets, but within the play of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson a reason for optimism exists. All hope is not lost.