Not Sure if Basketball, or Hot Potato

22. 22. 23. and 12.

Those numbers are the amount of points the Nets had across each quarter of game 4, a gut wrenching 87-79 loss for the Nets.

Recapping the game is pretty simple. The Nets got off to an atrocious start, finding themselves down 47-30 with 5:39 left in the second. The Nets valiantly fought their way back, but tired, and TOR fought back. This set up a one possession game late, and then, the Nets floundered. Up 79-78 with 4:58 left the Nets did not score a single point down the stretch, and lost 87-79. Here is my take on a bunch of what is concerning Nets Nation.

What is Happening With the Nets Offense?

In 2014, a huge part of the Brooklyn identity has become the 3 ball. Deron, Joe, Paul, Mirza, and Thornton (who has disappeared) are all extremely solid 3 point shooters. Anderson has his moments from 3 as well.

In the playoffs? The Nets have seemingly been unable to get on track. They are shooting 22-88 from 3 in the series: that’s an atrocious 25%. For perspective: Philadelphia was the league’s worst 3 point shooting team, at 30.3% for the season. So the Nets are essentially stinking the joint up from beyond the arc, and that has been hard for this team to overcome. Game 2: 7-24 from 3. Game 4: 4-20. That’s 33 combined missed threes, in 2 losses by a combined 13 points.  For a team heavily reliant on the longball, that won’t get it done.

Small sample size is a real thing in sports: a small sample is not indicative of most likely future results. And hopefully, the Nets reverse this small sample.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what is happening with the Nets from beyond the arc. But they will need to reverse the trend soon. The Nets’ offense depends on it. They seemingly are getting many good looks from beyond the arc, taking shots they want to take, need to take, and have taken for months. The problem? Nothing’s going down.

 

Deron Williams: What on Earth?

I normally dislike blaming anything in sports on a single player. Basketball is a team sport. There are matchups everywhere, and teams attempt to exploit those in their favor. You play defense as a team. You score as a team. You lean on one another as a team.  And the idea that “the best player wins the series” is flawed. LeBron’s entire Cleveland tenure? Most series lost by Kobe? Durant’s playoff failures? The Pistons’ title? Most of Dirk’s playoff losses? The Spurs system beating many better individuals like Steph Curry last year? This is a team sport, and that must be said.

At the same time, Deron Williams is a huge piece of this Nets team. Let’s face it. The Nets initiated a rebuilding process when Jason Kidd aged, replaced an inept owner with one willing to do WHATEVER it took, and amassed a hoard of assets in the form of picks and flexibility to spearhead their rebuild: all of that is smart. They decided that if a “superstar” were available, it would be prudent to accelerate the rebuild by getting him, and doing what it takes to keep him. When the core around him was deficient in 2013, ownership did what it took to build it further. The problem: that player, in Deron, is not playing well enough to justify the fact that assets were purged to build a roster around his talents.

Deron had an awful game 4. He looked to attack early, and was very aggressive to begin the game. He looked to attack, was aggressive, made shots, and gave Kyle Lowry hell … for about a quarter. Check out tonight’s play by play, which will show you when he scored. Find the 4:41 mark in the second quarter. Draw a donut. Then, draw the number that represents his point total after that figure. Then, note the similarity.

DW: Disappeared Williams.

Is the loss tonight solely on Deron? No. Is he a huge part of it. You bet. As I have said all year, Deron makes this Nets team go. This is a team that does not have the type of 1 on 1 talent that can just take his defender, exploit him, and get whatever he wants, whenever he wants. That’s fine: the Spurs don’t play that way either. This team relies on attacking creases, man movement, ball sharing, and each player playing through the system and through one another to get each other quality shots. That system is inordinately better when Deron runs the controls, than when Livingston does: the on court off court data is persuasive.

The problem: When Deron is not in games, the ball sticks. The system turns into mush. The team becomes reliant on heroball, and this team is not good when it does that. And the way Deron played tonight? He may as well have not been on the floor.

Deron did not look to make plays down the stretch, or really, throughout the second half. He basically came down the floor, and looked to pass. He was hoping Joe would make plays. Hoping Paul would. Even hoping Kevin would. Be it confidence, nerve, drive, ability — we can’t tell what, because we’re not in his head or around the team daily — but the bottom line is the bottom line. Deron did not look to make plays — at all — throughout the second half of this game, and especially so in the 4th quarter.

The Nets’ offense lost its hum because of it, did not extend its small lead because of it, and the Nets lost game 4 in very large part because of it. The 4th quarter of this game was basically Deron hoping his teammates could iso their way to success. That’s not how the Nets play, and it predictably failed.

I am not saying Deron has to take 25-30 shots a night. It’s not about how many points he scores or how many assists he has. The beauty of the Nets longball system, when it’s thriving, is that it never matters who is scoring, or who is given box score credit for the assist. What matters is this: Deron attacks creases and makes plays which collapse and loosen the defense, and the Nets exploit that by finding open shooters. This opens up the post, and then you start seeing Joe attack an uncrowded paint, as opposed to posting up into a mountain. Deron does not have to be the guy scoring the points, or dishing the dimes. But he has to be the head of the snake — or voltron — or the straw stirring the drink — or whatever term the Nets choose to call it. What he can’t do is what he did tonight: play hot potato with the basketball in the hopes his teammates would bail him out.

The Real Sting: They Actually Guarded

What really stung tonight is, after a brutal first quarter, the Nets actually guarded tonight. Toronto had 87 points on 41% shooting, and after a ridiculous first quarter, they scored 16, 16, and 20 respectively over three quarters. If you told me before game 4 that the Nets would hold the Raptors to those figures tonight, I would have gladly taken it. So would anyone.

The Nets defended. They played hard — although they played quite awfully to begin the game. They were engaged.

They just did not make shots. But this statement from me, while true, is becoming tiring.

What Now

With the series tied at 2-2? Time to bounce back. Not to sound cliche, but this is now a best of three, first to two, and it’s time to win 2 games. Let’s be clear. The Nets blew home court. They played awful ball tonight, and couldn’t hit the side of a barn. It was unspeakably bad. Deron disappeared. And, when you’re in a best of 7, and as the road team you take home court, it is now your job to win both games on your floor, and take home court back. The Nets didn’t. They failed. They should be criticized for that, and nobody can sugarcoat that.

At the same time, the last time I checked, a first to four series at 2-2 is not over: it is tied at 2. Do the greatest athletes in sports come through when it counts? Yes. You know what they also do? They brush off bad moments, frustrating times, and rebound from them. Rafael Nadal, the world’s top tennis player. is renowned for this. Analysts always discuss his uncanny ability to take a body blow, lose his serve, suffer something absolutely brutal on court, choke a set — but it doesn’t bother him. Next point up. He comes back and continues to play. The great quarterbacks throw interceptions, blow leads. They don’t hang their head. They continue to play.

With 2 days off before game 5, it’s now time for the Nets to bounce back. Air Canada Centre will be rocking, the Raptors will believe they can win this series, and I’m sure they’ll be excited and ready to play. The Nets need to just put tonight out of their mind, and do what they need to do. Defend hard on one end, and move the ball and hit shots on the other.

Other Notes

-It may be time for Kidd to reinsert Marcus Thornton into his rotation. Thornton was awful to begin the series, and I understand that, but this is a team starving for some 3 point shooting — as I described above, their inability to hit their signature shot is killing them this series. Thornton is the one player not getting minutes with the ability to spontaneously combust from beyond the arc. The Nets are a team that can really use a spurt of 3 point shooting. The playoffs are about runs, and the Nets do not have the athleticism to make one with a flurry of frenetic play. They need to make them from the 3 point line. The Nets’ defense has, by and large, been solid over 4 games: it hasn’t been perfect but it’s been good enough to win. Holding a team to 87 points on 41% shooting is excellent, and you simply cannot do that at home and lose the game. The Nets need to start knocking down shots.

-I understand Kidd’s faith in his players, but he’s also shown at times this season (and now, with Thornton), that he’s not afraid to remove guys from his rotation, bring them off the bench, or adjust minutes. At this point, if there’s a guy to do that with, it is Dray. Blatche has been brutal defensively, and has consistently taken bad shots this series. He nearly played his way out of the rotation, and maybe Kidd should move past nearly.

-I hate to harp on KG, but he does need to play more. KG is +26 in the series. The Nets as a team: -4 — so -30 when KG is off the floor. The reason is simple. Smallball in today’s NBA is extremely effective because quality stretch 4’s create huge mismatches offensively. But to truly tie it together, you need a big that protects the paint (to maintain your defensive balance), and it surely does not hurt to have a big that can shoot as well. KG is a more consistent scorer than Blatche (if less thrilling), and is WAY better defensively. KG is also way better defensively than a raw Plumlee, and Plumlee, unlike KG, allows the defense to relax because he is not a range scorer or adept finisher (despite how exciting he can be). I still support bumping KG’s minutes.

-Let’s stop blaming Jason Kidd for everything. Players win and lose games in sports. Deron disappeared. Joe was not good tonight. Paul was in and out with his productivity. Livingston was brutal to watch. Blatche has been, to be honest, unspeakably awful. At some point, there needs to be accountability for the guys wearing jerseys.

-At this point, I really hope nobody — on either side of this series — stoops to the level of blaming the officials. Toronto and Brooklyn are 2-2 in a best of 7, and the better team will win. All the respective fanbases can do is hope its their team, and the refs will not and have not determined the outcome of the series. Refs make their share of bad calls. But any complaints that the refs are rigging this series — or any other series for that matter — ring hollow.

-If the Nets lose this series, it’s not because they did not have home court. Look at all the home playoff losses thus far. The better teams will win their series. The Nets stole home court, and blew it.

-More off base than that is the narrative that the Nets tanked to avoid Chicago. The Nets playoff matchup was a 50/50 proposition regardless of their final seeding: just check the late season standings. Rather than jumping on what people Tweet, review the facts.

 

 

 

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