Recap: Nets 111, Heat 105 - “At This Point With Lionel Hollins, Anything Goes”
As the estimable Ian Eagle explained in the waning seconds of the game, the Brooklyn Nets “looked like a completely different team in the second half” of their 111-105 victory in Miami. The Nets team of the first half continued their disturbing trend of both turning the ball over and not playing defense, causing head coach Lionel Hollins to contemplate serious measures before exiting the American Airlines locker rooms at halftime. Rather than shake up his entire starting five, however, Hollins decided instead on his backcourt, and the emergence of Shane Larkin and especially Wayne Ellington triggered a 67-48 second half run and would make just enough of their free throws to hold on for the six-point victory.
The defensive effort was night-and-day for the Nets in each half. Much like in their last meeting a week and a half ago, Dwyane Wade dominated his match-up with Bojan Bogdanovic (and even Jarrett Jack for some possessions in the second quarter) and alternated between setting up teammates and only taking shots within his comfort zone. Wade would continue to make adjustments as the Nets sent more defenders and pressure at him, keeping his head up for Hassan Whiteside rolls to the rim whenever Brooklyn extended their pick-and-roll coverages (see video below). With Chris Bosh making both of his shot attempts from deep (on his way to a perfect 5-of-5 night on three-pointers) and providing the stretch element to the half-court offense, and the Nets’ offense submitting an 0/8 stretch over the last four and a half minutes of the first half, and a 14-point Miami lead at halftime somehow seemed insurmountable.
Though the lead would instantly balloon to 16, following two successful Whiteside free throws to begin the second half, the Nets’ offense immediately looked livelier with the switch at guards, with the ball swinging from side-to-side and driving lanes opening up thanks to the strong shooting from Wayne Ellington. Shane Larkin went assist-less in his first six-minute stint on the court but would collect seven assists in the third quarter alone, and his ability to get into the lane off of pick and rolls with Brook Lopez kept the Miami defense scrambling.
Lopez would score 10 points in the third quarter; all coming on assisted baskets, and all-but one from Larkin. Much like in their last meeting, his finesse, multi-faceted game was a tough cover for the hyper-aggressive Whiteside, and Brook would finish with 26 points on 10/24 shooting, to go with 12 boards, two steals, and two turnovers. Lopez would hit two career milestones to go along with his team’s victory, as his 23rd point constituted the 8,000th of his career, placing him below Buck Williams, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson on the all-time Nets leaderboard, and he’d finish the game with 3,127 made field goals in his Nets career, barely beating out Vinsanity for second place in the franchise’s history (hat tip, as always, to the incredible Basketball-Reference).
While Lopez and Larkin ran high-pick and rolls together to suck in the Heat defense, Ellington supplied the weak-side spacing with 23 points in the second half. Ellington added three three-pointers in the third quarter (and three more in the fourth) and made seven of nine shots from deep over his 32:33 of playing time, tying a Nets record for threes made by a bench player (along with Bostjan Nachbar and Mirza Teletovic). Most of his shot attempts came from the catch and shoot, though he was able to fake his way into appearing as a solid secondary-ball-handler against Miami and even hooked Lopez up with a rare non-Larkin assist in the third.
More importantly, Ellington could keep up with Dwyane Wade on the defensive end and not put additional stress on his teammates by sticking with his man through screens or off the dribble. Wade would miss just four shots all evening and score 24 points to again lead his team, but he would go without a field goal in the second half until a wide-open dunk with 40 seconds left in the game and Miami down two possessions. Ellington forced him into one difficult jumper while fading out of bounds, along with three Wade turnovers in the second half, as the Nets turned an insurmountable deficit into an 11-point lead with three minutes left in the game.
Along with setting season highs in three-pointers made, with 12 and thanks largely to Wayne Ellington, the Nets also set high-marks in free throws made and attempted in a game this season, with a much improved 27/36-mark over their recent futility from the charity stripe. Late-game free throws haven’t been a very common occurrence for the team, but they converted on 8/12 in the final minute to seal the 111-105 victory and end their losing streak at three games, as they improve to 9-22 on the season.
Lionel Hollins, in his frustrations, may have finally figured out a new rotation that could help to alleviate some of the team’s glaring issues. Shane Larkin’s spark-plug game and quick burst as a north-to-south element in the P&R is a much better fit for the particular attention that Brook Lopez attracts compared to the mid-range pull-up game of Jarrett Jack, who can often eat into Lopez’s real estate. Wayne Ellington, meanwhile, provides two integral skills that Bojan Bogdanovic simply hasn’t shown yet this season: consistent effort in man-to-man defense and in shooting the three-ball. As Joe Johnson slides ever further into the dreaded Kobe Bryant comparisons, the Nets’ offense drastically needs a spacing option to complement their high-scoring and effective bigs, and while Ellington isn’t the long-term answer, his catch-and-shoot skills might be a better fit with the first team, as Bogie’s ball-handling and ability to create his own shot could improve the bench scoring.
Opening up the second half with a completely new backcourt was a bold move from Hollins that paid off big time against the Miami Heat. The question then becomes whether it was a momentary act of desperation from a coach facing a deep halftime deficit, or a new-found trend from a coach facing a deep lottery finish and weekly rumors as to his job security. The team, including starting point guard Jarrett Jack, said all of the right things following their 111-105 road win, but the extent of Lionel Hollins’s lineup moves won’t be realized until the Brooklyn Nets’ next game, coming Wednesday at 7 pm in Orlando and against the (18-13) Magic.