Recap: Nets 106, Rockets 98 - Brooklyn’s Bench Comes Up Big
The Brooklyn Nets’ season-opening losing streak will end at seven, following their 106-98 victory Wednesday in Houston. Having been outscored by a combined-87 points through their first seven games, the Nets overcame their customary early shooting slump to outscore the Rockets by 24 points in the second and fourth quarters, and escaped Houston with their first win of the season.
The Rockets tested the Brooklyn defense early and often in transition, by leaking out on the fast break for easy baskets and bombing away from deep. The Nets countered by staying patient and working their height advantage to a commanding rebound disparity, while picking their spots from the perimeter and somehow outshooting another NBA team from beyond the arc. Slowly, Brooklyn’s rebounds turned into transition opportunities, and all of a sudden the Nets became the aggressor, drawing five more free throw attempts than James Harden’s team and featuring four-guard and bench lineups with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter.
Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez supplied the offense in the first half, combining for 23 of the team’s first 30 points, but neither would score in the final quarter and were instead asked to contribute on defense. Young would see just the last two minutes of action, while Lopez grabbed five rebounds and blocked four shots over the final frame, including this huge sequence that resulted in a five-point swing with two minutes remaining.
Down three points with 2:08 left on the clock, the Rockets run a 1/3 pick and roll with James Harden set up around the free throw line-extended. His defender, Joe Johnson, steps out to “show” on the screen and then quickly recovers to the three-point line to prevent Harden from getting a clean look, while Ty Lawson breezes by Johnson’s stop sign and beats Jarrett Jack on the drive. Jack is able to keep his hands low before backing off to avoid the foul, but funnels Lawson into the help defense of Brook Lopez, who swallows up the shot and then lumbers up court.
As the ball advances, the Nets dribble-handoff to Johnson on the left side before running him through some cross screens to post up Harden on the right block. Johnson’s shooting touch continues to escape him early in the season - including a 4/13 shooting line tonight - but his strength gets him into the middle of the defense and turns the heads of at least three Rockets. Bojan Bogdanovic throws the post-entry pass into Joe and then drifts to the left-corner once Marcus Thornton completely leaves him in favor of Johnson’s attention, and knocks down the triple before Trevor Ariza can close out on the weak side.
Such is the benefit of “Iso Joe”-brand basketball, and simply getting the ball into the middle of the defense to create room for shooters. The team entered the game ranked last in the league in three-point field goal percentage (23.6 percent) and tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves in fewest three-point attempts per game (15.1), yet connected on 8/17 attempts (47.1 percent) while the Houston Rockets converted on just 8-of-34 shots from deep (23.5 percent).
Along with the advantage in efficiency from the three-point arc, the Brooklyn Nets maintained a double-digit lead in rebounding all evening, finishing with 60 total boards and 20 on the offensive end. The Nets’ plus-15 edge in rebounds translated into 33 second chance points, compared to just 12 for Houston. As to be expected, at least from Houston’s opening game plan, the Rockets held an advantage in fast break points, but the Brooklyn Nets are certainly not used to winning games in which they are outscored in the paint by 22 points (and, again, in which they outshoot their opponents from three).
The most important factor to the Nets’ first victory of the season was almost certainly the bench, however, and their 56-point outburst. Led by Bogdanovic’s 22 points (on 10/20 shooting) and 9 rebounds, the bench unit was largely responsible for the team’s successes in the second and fourth quarters, while playing alongside either Brook Lopez or Joe Johnson. Shane Larkin, in particular, brought tremendous energy in replacing Jack at the point guard position and even in sharing a backcourt together, and began knocking down jumpers with confidence in the second half. The diminutive Larkin even finished with eight rebounds and made three of his four three-pointers, while leading all players with a point differential of plus-24. The substitution of Thomas Robinson for Lopez as the game tightened in the fourth quarter led to some puzzled expressions and mutterings from my end, but Robinson’s activity was exactly what the team needed at that point, and his tip-in on the offensive glass at the 4:19-mark sparked a 6-0 run that would give the Nets back the lead for good.
The Brooklyn Nets picked up their first win of the season against the Houston Rockets and now sit at 1-7 on the season. They’ll play next on Friday at 10:00 pm (EST), in Sacramento against the (2-7) Kings.