Recap: Nets 94, Celtics 103 - The Point Guard Adjustment
The Brooklyn Nets played like a team that had just lost its starting point guard for the season, in losing to the Boston Celtics, 94 - 103, Monday night. Turnovers doomed the Nets from the start, as a 14-to-7 disparity would underscore the team’s inability to get into their offense and initiate good looks against a team they had handled as recently as Saturday afternoon. The difference was the unfortunate absence of Jarrett Jack, who earlier in the day had been ruled out following a torn ACL and medial meniscus in his right knee which he suffered towards the end of the Boston game.
As to be expected, the Nets struggled in the opening quarter to acclimate to life without Jack, as Shane Larkin made just his second start of the season and struggled to get Brooklyn into their sets. Brook Lopez torched the Celtics’ stable of big men for a season-high 30 points in Saturday’s game, and Boston was determined to neutralize his offense by sending hordes of defenders at Lopez whenever he dribbled. Turning Lopez into a passer resulted in a couple of quick giveaways, and eight Nets turnovers after the first quarter would lead to a 15-point deficit as the Celtics put up 37 points in their first 12 minutes.
Brooklyn would commit just six more turnovers and outscore their opponents over the next three quarters, and their offense began to slowly acclimate to the new point guard rotation. Shane Larkin would struggle in his 27 minutes, with just four points scored (on seven shot attempts, including an 0/3 from three) and more fouls (three) than assists, but Donald Sloan was steady, if severely uninspired, in scoring five points on as many shots, along with four boards and three assists.
The play-making responsibilities mostly fell to Joe Johnson, who led the team with four assists and attacked in his familiar mode in the halfcourt (in isolation). More inspiring, however, was the scoring output from “Iso” Joe, who tallied 21 points in just under 35 minutes, on an efficient 8/15 from the field and 2/4 from deep. His Celtic counterpart, Jae Crowder, would ultimately win the matchup with his career-high 25 points, but Johnson submitted a much needed throwback effort and shot above 50% from the floor for the first time in his last 13 games.
As Joe Johnson began to heat up heading into halftime, the Celtics’ defense relaxed its swarming of Brook Lopez in the second half and allowed the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week to submit another 10+-point (third) quarter. Boston’s Tyler Zeller would slow Lopez to start the fourth quarter and force him into some awkward (and long) shot attempts, and allow Boston to abandon the double teams altogether as the game grew close. Without a true spacing threat - due to an 0/7 performance from three by Bojan Bogdanovic - to go along with its lack of a lead playmaker, and Brooklyn would ultimately be unable to close the gap with the deficit as close as six points, and a Jae Crowder and-one layup would just about seal the game for the Celtics.
Despite the losing effort, the Brooklyn Nets were led again by the tenacious Thaddeus Young, who topped the team in both points (23) and rebounds (15), and was, by far, the most active Net on the floor. Young affected the game in all aspects and even connected on two of his four attempts from beyond the three-point line, after making just two three-pointers in his previous 30 games. Over his last month before entering Monday, Young boasts averages of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game on 52.4-percent shooting, with 10 double doubles in 15 games.
Replacing Jarrett Jack’s production on a nightly basis will be a tough challenge for any incumbent Nets point guard, but Monday’s loss against the Boston Celtics should serve as a nice baseline going forward for both Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan. The Nets will need one of the two to provide competent production on a nightly basis, along with a steady hand at the point who can get the ball to their bigs and occasionally make a jump shot. While Joe Johnson may be able to fill in as a playmaker and table-setter for stretches, his age and declining talents prohibit him from accepting the role on a permanent basis, while also focusing on his own offense.
In Brooklyn’s next game, on Wednesday against the (21-15) Toronto Raptors, the point guard position will again be the focal point for the Nets, with Shane Larkin squaring off against Kyle Lowry at the Barclays Center. With Lowry on his way to another Eastern Conference All-Star selection, it should be another tough game for the Brooklyn Nets’ point guards as they try to replace the void caused by Jarrett Jack’s season-ending injury.