In game 1 against the Heat, the Nets clearly failed to carry over the momentum of a rousing game 7 road victory, suffering a 107-86 defeat. The recap is pretty simple: the game was close in the first half, with the Heat playing better and getting better shots, but the Nets holding steady. Then, the Heat pasted the Nets in the 3rd quarter, taking a 79-66 lead after 3. The Nets played a bench group to start the 4th, the Heat increased their lead, and the Heat never looked back. On to the notes.
Kidd’s lineups, part 1–who backs up KG: Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee were awful tonight, and given Miami’s small roster — they start Bosh at center and do not have bigs that punish you inside — this may be the wrong series for them. Blatche and Plumlee were useful in helping contain Valanciunas and Amir Johnson in round 1, but Miami does not have threats like that. If they are struggling, there really is no reason to play them. The Nets may be best served playing Pierce, Kirilenko, Teletovic, and even Johnson at times at the 5 to maximize their offensive firepower and three point shooting. Sure those guys won’t defend the paint — but it’s not like Plumlee and Blatche did anyway.
Kidd’s lineups, part 2–his decision to call off the dogs in game 1: Much of the noise on Twitter tonight relates to Kidd’s substitutions, and I have a few points to make. First, it seems that Kidd called the dogs off early in the 4th quarter, a play I actually support. The Nets are exhausted, with an older team coming off an incredibly taxing series. They got hit in the mouth in the third, and looked tired. Kidd could see it in their legs, their rotations. The Heat were getting layups and threes, the Nets long 2’s. A comeback looked as slim as slim could be, given the third quarter, and the shots the teams were getting. So he decided that his guys simply needed the rest, to preserve some semblance of their legs for Thursday’s game. It’s a tactic I definitely understand, but one I would have negotiated a touch differently. Given how hot Deron and Joe were from distance, and generally, all night, I would have played them with the bench, and seen if they could shoot the team into the game. Then, if they could not, I would have stuck with calling the dogs off: but I would have given them the chance to pull off the highly improbable, just given their hot shooting.
Kidd’s lineups, part 3–hockey substitutions: Nothing draws more Twitter ire than Kidd’s use of his bench. Kidd needs to trust his bench, and it’s not as simple as shortening the rotation. Thornton is useful when hot, Alan Anderson is a better defender than Thornton so he should take Thornton’s minutes when he’s cold. Kirilenko is a good defender, but a minus when we need shooting (and his lack of shooting makes him tough to pair with Livingston). Teletovic is also highly useful when hot but not when cold. A bench of specialists and guys who perform different roles, it makes it tough to simply remove a guy — and his role — on a per se basis.
However, it’s one thing to rely on your bench, but quite another to play five bench guy at once through the use of hockey substitutions. The Nets rely on Deron Joe and Paul to produce points. It’s going to be way too tough for Brooklyn to manufacture hoops against an engaged Miami defense without one of those three on the floor to buoy the reserves. Avery used to use Joe as his starter to play with the subs, dubbing him “anchor Joe.” The Nets should do something akin with one of their three scorers.
Basically, I support using the bench, and am not saying shorten the rotation or only ride the starters: what I am recommending is the simple lack of hockey subs.
-Brooklyn definitely tired as the game progressed. Still, we got a glimpse tonight of what makes Miami so great in the playoffs. When their defense is on, I think it’s better than any defense in the NBA: it’s just not always on, because they play with such chaos, such freneticness, that it’s something they don’t sustain from game to game. They defend the hell out of you and force bad shots with their intense speed. On the other end they hit you with the world’s greatest player, and two top probably 10-15 players, and a cast of loaded three point shooting.
-The Nets defensive scheme hinges on taking the ball out of the hands of lead players like LeBron, overloading the paint and strong side, and making you beat them with weakside shooting. Their rotations since January have been quick enough to sustain that. They were not tonight. Part of that was due to LeBron being such a great passer that he is able to pick the scheme apart. Hopefully another part was weary legs: the Nets will need to defend on a string more than ever.
-Everyone needs to stop saying the Nets aren’t trying, or aren’t giving effort, in all honesty. The Nets rallied from 2-3 down to take the Raptors – a team which played at a 52 win pace after dealing Rudy Gay – and eliminate them by winning a road game 7. Teams that don’t give effort don’t do that. This is professional sports, and the best team in the world. It’s the NBA. Effort doesn’t guarantee victory, or even a close game, at this high of a level. You have to tip your cap and respect your opponent, give credit when credit is due; in sports players make plays.
-I would not worry about this game affecting the team going forward. Every game in the playoffs is its own game, and momentum is vastly overrated as a concept, especially in pro sports. The Heat and Nets are full of players just brimming with an incredible amount of confidence and self belief. No win by either team in this series is phasing anyone into not believing that they can perform the following night.