image via Forbes.com
The Brooklyn Nets face new struggles every game. Just a few days ago, I documented 2 games where the Nets had victory slip away from them. But now, The Struggles Strike Back (Again.) This past week, in particular, Nets fans have rode the emotional roller coaster. In games against the Pacers, Heat, Raptors and Knicks, the Nets again fought, but ultimately lost due to poor fourth quarter execution. The script seems already written in fourth quarters of Nets games.
Let’s take a look at two recent Nets games, against the Miami Heat, and against the Indiana Pacers. These two games were mostly lost on the offensive end, with the Nets able to get stops on the defensive end. Poor decision-making and poor shot selection filled the Nets’ late game execution. Kenny Atkinson has used different lineups in crunch time, using nearly every combination possible to the same results. Even with different personnel, the same issues persisted.
Cue the video!
30 January – Brooklyn Nets vs Miami Heat – Final Score – Nets 96, Heat 104
The Nets were matched up with the hot hot Miami Heat for the second time in a week. The Nets held a lead in the first half, but the Heat responded at the end of the second quarter with a strong run. Miami extended their lead in the third, but the Nets were able to claw back in the fourth quarter. We pick it up with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The score is 88-95, with Brooklyn trying to make a comeback. Trevor Booker is at the free throw line.
The Nets get two offensive rebounds in the same possession. Trevor Booker throws down an emphatic tip slam, energizing the team and bringing the deficit to 5. The Nets get a stop on the defensive end, and are on the fast break the next time down the floor.
The Nets slow it down on this possession, with Isaiah Whitehead as the lead ballhandler. After a couple of seconds, Trevor Booker sets a screen for Whitehead, who pulls up from three. Booker gets called for an illegal screen. Off ball, there was no movement. The initial action seemed to be for a Lopez post up, but Willie Reed (him again) digs into Lopez and denies the ball. After another Miami miss and a good defensive stand by the Nets, the score is still 90-95.
The Nets swing the ball, with Bojan Bogdanovic feeding Lopez with good position in the post. Willie Reed seemingly morphs into Bill Russell when he faces Brook Lopez. Lopez turns over his shoulder and takes a righty hook…which he airballs. The Nets have ANOTHER good defensive stand, blocking a Goran Dragic layup. The score is still 90-95. The Nets were able to string three good defensive possessions in a row.
The Nets run the fast break after the block on Dragic. Whithead probes and passes it to Brook Lopez, trailing the break. Lopez catches the ball two steps behind the three-point line, and shoots a three with 17 seconds left in the shot clock. It ends in a Brook Lopez airball. On the next defensive possession, Willie “Wilt Chamberlain” Russell scores off of a drive, bringing the lead to 90-97 with 3 minutes left in the game. Kenny Atkinson calls a time out.
Out of the time out, Trevor Booker brings the ball up the floor. Lopez and Booker set strong screens to set Caris LeVert up for a midrange jumper in rhythm. The shot goes in and out, but Brook Lopez taps the rebound to LeVert, who tosses it to Whitehead on the perimeter. The Nets dribble and move really well here, with four players touching the ball. Trevor Booker gets a good luck at the dunk and is fouled. Booker splits the free throws. The score is 91-97.
The Heat miss another shot. Booker sinks a hook shot to bring the lead to 4. After a bang bang defensive play where Lopez hits the floor, and Goran Dragic is able to sink two free throws. The score is 93-99, with 1:27 left in the game.
Off of a made free throw, Caris LeVert is the primary ballhandler. Lopez and Booker set double screens for LeVert. Dion Waiters makes a good play on the ball, kind of undercutting LeVert. There was no foul called, and LeVert turns the ball over, leading to a jump ball. The no-call on LeVert may be frustrating, but James Johnson may have stolen the ball regardless. The jump ball goes to Miami, and James Johnson throws down an emphatic dunk off of a miss. That dunk was a prime example of the Nets’ rebounding issues. The score is 101-93, with 55 seconds left.
Off of a timeout, Kenny Atkinson draws up a play for Bojan Bogdanovic. The Nets run a really interesting sideline variation of elevator doors (https://youtu.be/WR9XUXTcsEg), with Booker and Lopez. Booker hip checks Bojan’s defender Rodney McGruder on the cut. Booker is called for the illegal screen and turnover. Bogdanovic would have been open even without the illegal contact. After the turnover, Miami extends its leadm with too little time for a Nets rally.
The Nets scored only 5 points in four and a half minutes in the fourth quarter. The team played great defense down the stretch, getting consecutive stops AND stopping Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic. But it was the offense that disappointed. It is important to note that the Heat have the highest fourth quarter defensive rating in the NBA. The Nets committed three turnovers in that 5-minute stretch, two on illegal screens, and one on an intercepted pass. It’s also revealing that the Nets were in the bonus after the Trevor Booker putback dunk. The Nets failed to capitalize on strong defensive stops, and wound up paying in a winnable game.
4 February – Brooklyn Nets vs Indiana Pacers – Final Score, Nets 97, Pacers 106
In a game where the Nets looked overmatched in the first three quarters (a common theme), the Nets made a run during the fourth, led by their bench. Quincy Acy was inserted into the game at the end of the third and the game changed with his hustle and shooting. The score is 88-87. The Nets are down 1, after grabbing the lead for the first time.
Out of a pick and roll, Trevor Booker receives a pass and ambles to the rim. He jumps up and Monta Ellis makes a good play on the ball, tipping Booker’s pass and forcing a turnover. Good idea, but Ellis recognized the non-threat of Spencer Dinwiddie as a shooter and protected the paint.
Quincy Acy blocks a Jeff Teague layup and the Nets are on the fast break. Caris LeVert speeds down the floor, and finds Spencer Dinwiddie right at the rim. Dinwiddie hesitates (something I’ve been critical of before) and doesn’t take the layup, fearing a block from behind. He dribbles it out to set the offense, leading to a Quincy Acy three point shot. The Nets had a fast break opportunity but the hesitation allowed the defense to recover and set up.
Off of a Brook Lopez screen, Spencer Dinwiddie is open in the midrange, taking a floater. He shoots it soft enough to rebound his own shot. He turns it over after a Monta Ellis tip from behind. Turnover. The score is 90-89.
Randy Foye tries to initiate a two-man game with Brook Lopez headed to the rim, but the Pacers defense does a good job at denying Lopez in the paint. Foye looks elsewhere, swinging it to Quincy Acy, then Caris LeVert on a drive. The Nets did a good job of swinging and reacting to the defense, but they were unable to come away with a basket.
Brook Lopez sets a good screen for Spencer Dinwiddie. Lopez receives the pass at the free throw line and takes a contested jumper out of rhythm. Brooklyn comes away empty handed again with less than 5 minutes left in the game.
Off of a dead ball and substitution, Kilpatrick and Lopez enter the screen and roll. The Pacers switch on the play, and Kilpatrick gets it to Lopez on the move. Brook brings the ball down below his waist for no reason. This allows Monta Ellis to grab the ball, forcing the jump ball.
In the very overmatched Ellis-Lopez jump ball, Jeff Teague is able to grab the ball away from Sean Kilpatrick. To make things worse, Kilpatrick fouls Teague. The Pacers are in the bonus, and Teague extends the lead.
The Nets generate a Quincy Acy corner 3 and loose ball foul with Brook Lopez. Out of the inbounds play, the Nets get Caris LeVert (the inbounder) an easy dunk down low, off of a down screen. It’s almost a flipped over version of the play the Nets run to initiate their usual offense. The Nets are down 3 with around three minutes left.
Off of a slipped Brook Lopez screen, Kilpatrick tries to laser a pass to the cutting Lopez. Lopez doesn’t have go-go gadget arms, and the ball is turned over. The Nets are able to keep up with Indiana, scoring on Quincy Acy free throws and a Sean Kilpatrick drive. The score is 100-95, with less than 2 minutes left in the game.
If you were watching the YES feed of this game, you could hear Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel losing it over this play. Off of a Sean Kilpatrick drive, a mismatch is caused with Teague on Lopez. Kilpatrick fumbles a little, and makes things more difficult for himself by backing out. Lopez is calling for the ball, but Kilpatrick loses the angle and opts to swing the ball. You can hear Jim Spanarkel break down the play himself here.
At that point, there was too little time for the Nets to come back. Kenny Atkinson ended up getting a technical at the end of the game by unleashing his inner FIFA.
Will it get better?
It’s been said numerous times. The Nets fight. They compete in games where they shouldn’t. But still, the effort hasn’t translated to wins, with the team stuck on single digit wins. At this rate, I may have to churn out a Nets 4th Quarter Struggles every week. The fourth quarter execution has been lackluster, but hey, at least they’re not playing in the Super Bowl.
It’s been a common occurrence this season. The Nets go down big, they come back later, but they ultimately lose. It’s great to see the Nets fighting, but it’s deflating to see the opponent take control down the stretch over and over again. More glimmer of hope losses will come, for sure. Here’s one last look at the Nets’ fourth quarter offense.
There’s only one way to go from where the Brooklyn Nets are now.