Recap: Nets 104, Trailblazers 116 - Lillard Lights Them Up
Letâ€™s be honest. This game was all about Damian Lillard. At this point, Iâ€™m obliged to tell you that the Trailblazers drafted their young point guard with a draft pick that the Nets supplied for them. It was part of the Gerald Wallace trade and because Lillard has become the player that he has, and because the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce deal gets all the attention, itâ€™s almost the dirty little secret that Nets fans are afraid to bring up in public. I apologize to you all, but it has to be brought up, because Damian Lillard was the difference in the game in such a clear way.
But despite the unfortunate circumstance that a player the Nets ‘couldâ€™ have drafted was the one that sealed their fate in the 4th quarter of last nights game, this Nets loss felt different than the others. Less utterly hopeless. Less ordinarily depressing. More exciting even. After the firing of Lionel Hollins and as rumors that there werenâ€™t too many players all that upset about the mid-season firing surfaced, the Nets loss tonight was almost … dare I say … fun? (!)
Of course, part of that could be due to the opponent. The Portland Trailblazers, in the midst of a fight for the 8-seed in the Western Conference is one of the sneakiest fun teams to watch in the NBA. They have a back court that can score with anyone (both Lillard and McCollum are averaging over 20 points per game this season), almost every player on the roster can shoot and has the green light to take open 3â€™s, and love to play up-and-down free-flowing basketball.
Maybe to the Nets detriment, it was that type of game last night in Brooklyn as the teams combined for only 21 turnovers and shot 23 for 54 from the 3-point line (both teams shot around 42% from the outside). It was a roller coaster of a game as the Nets came out strong and controlled the majority of the first quarter. The Blazers countered with a strong showing form their bench unit using a 24-6 run to take a 41-29 lead early in the second.
The game steadied a bit as the Nets worked their way out of that deficit and into a 6 point lead with around 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter until the Blazers caught fire (led by Lillard) and used a 19-2 run to build a 105-94 lead that Lillard held on his own with big shot after big shot down the stretch.
But within those swings were some really fun moments for the Brooklyn Nets including Brook Lopez meeting Damian Lillard at the rim and denying his poster attempt. There was also a sign of life from Joe Johnson who exploded for three straightÂ 3-pointers as the Nets built a lead towards the end of the 3rd quarter while the bench was up celebrating for the vet. There was Thomas Robinsonâ€™s intensity and energy on the offensive boards creating multiple extra possessions for the Nets and turning a few into 3-point plays for himself.
All in all the Nets were fun to watch. The turnovers were down (they finished with 12 with admittedly a few bad ones down the stretch, but had only 4 at halftime). The Nets shot the ball well from the 3-point line (8-19 from long range for 42%), though there was still a large disparity in this department as Portland was bombing away. They got to the free throw line (28 attempts to Portlandâ€™s 11). It was clear that Tony Brown wanted them to play with more pace (though they still struggled to do that).
For two teams on the opposite side of the country there were many weird overlaps with the player personnel. Not only did the Blazers draft Damian Lillard with the Nets pick, but the two teams traded on draft day this past summer as well. It would have been tougher for Nets fans to watch Mason Plumleeâ€™s patented reverse dunk while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson looked on in a suit if Brook Lopez hadnâ€™t put Plumlee and really the entire Portland front line in a blender on his way to 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 crazy block on Lillard. Thomas Robinson was traded from Portland last season to Denver and was on the verge of falling out of the league until the Nets gave him a chance to provide the energy he did last night with a double double (11 and 10) off the bench.
But it was Lillard who stepped up, took, and made big shots down the stretch as if he was just monitoring the situation and took control when he needed to. He finished with 33 points (on 24 attemtps) and 10 assists including 5-10 from the 3-point line. Allen Crabbe finished with 19 as he knocked down 5 of 6 from the outside mostly on catch and shoot situations (the Nets continue to allow way to many of those opportunities). The Nets defense overall was bad. They had no answer for Lillard or McCollum and both players got to wherever they wanted to on the floor.
But again, it was fun. The Nets are in no better shape today. Their defense was maybe worse than itâ€™s been for much of this season and they still donâ€™t have a crunch time scorer or any of their draft picks. But maybe, they are inching their way towards watch-ably bad.
- Donald Sloan had a really nice game and flirted with a triple double with 15, 9, and 9. He hit some outside shots, had great chemistry with Brook (they ran the give and go with Brook in the post many times), and was getting into the paint and finding shooters and cutters. His defense left a lot to be desired, but that goes for almost the entire roster right now.
- On the other hand, Shane Larkin is having trouble re-adjusting to the role off the bench. In the first half he was not aggressive as their bench unit floundered and was desperate for offense. In the second half, he began searching out mid-range floaters off the pick and roll and was having trouble getting them off against the Blazers length. Meanwhile, Tony Brown had left some of the starters in with the bench unit and Bargnani was actually hitting shots.
- The Nets gave up open jumpers, didnâ€™t contain the Blazers back court in any way, and were seemingly scrambling and a step behind all night. Tony Brown is asking them to do some things differently, so maybe it can be chalked up to making adjustments, but the results were not pretty on the defensive end tonight. Portland had an offensive rating of 126.7 in this game according to Basketball Reference.
- The Nets had 22 assists on 38 field goals, which is a pretty nice number for them. For the most part, they were moving the ball really well. In the second half they got sloppy a few times and bad passes led to Blazersâ€™ dunks in transition, and there were stretches here and there when the ball stuck a bit, but overall ball and player movement seemed improved.
- I hope Tony Brown continues to urge the Nets to play with a little more pace. They can always revert to their post-centric offense in secondary transition, but this team could use some easy buckets.
- The Nets travel to Atlanta to face the Hawks later tonight.