Nets 99, Raptors 108 – Box

It wasn’t the thumping that we were hoping see after the Indiana loss, but it was a win on a back-to-back which are hard to come by and should be accepted without complaint. We’ll take the W, rest for three days and prepare for Sacramento on Sunday. Watching the Nets go up 12 in the second quarter was quite pitiful and the ACC crowd let the Raptors know it, the booing was a tad bit premature for my taste but it got them out of their funk. After playing them even for another quarter or so, the second-unit iced the game in the early fourth. The defensive effort was shoddy at best, especially in transition which I’m inclined to say is becoming a problem. Against a better team we would’ve paid the price, but these are the Nets and you can afford to play bad basketball for half the game and still come out on top.

This game was played at the same level of intensity as Vince Carter’s All-Star Classic, remember those? Both teams were running up and down like it was a lazy Sunday afternoon at the Y, making dangerous passes in transition, getting easy buckets, committing careless turnovers which they didn’t seem to be too upset about and just playing at a generally casual pace. The Nets especially, I think they hate playing the half-court and look to catch the defense napping every chance they get, Harris’ outlets burning us a few times in the first. The Raptors started the game off in a similar fashion as Indiana, going to Bosh against a slower big to watch him launch jumpers. He hit three against Lopez but after that things tightened up for him and he struggled with his J the rest of the night. At times his coordination was totally off and we saw bits of the Bosh we all hate – the one that goes to the rim without an angle, contorts his body to make the angle worse and throws up a prayer that the defense smiles at. That didn’t stop Devlin from reminding us how great of a week Bosh had had, it’s almost like he fears we’ll lose respect for Bosh and needs to hype him up after every bad play. C’mon Matt, we’re not that fickle.

The Raptors ball movement was solid and Jarrett Jack did a good job of putting Devin Harris on his heels by driving right at him and then kicking it out for the swing, he’s been doing that against every good PG he faces. Wright got the start instead of Belinelli, presumably because Triano wanted to retain some energy off the bench, and was the beneficiary of some Jack-initiated open looks and he did good in draining them; suddenly he’s become a decent perimeter shooter when he catches it in rhythm, totally didn’t see that coming from a career 30% 3-point shooter. After hitting three jumpers I could actually live with his ill-advised crossover followed by a left-handed shot-attempt, after all he’s not going to provide 18/7 anytime soon again. Devlin and his Get up, bird! call for Wright better not last. The Raptors were up 10 midway through the first and the Nets were starting to fade, the thing that was keeping them in the game was their offensive rebounding which was happening because of the havoc caused by Harris, CDR and Hayes’ early dribble penetration.

We saw this against Indiana too, our bigs (or anyone for that matter) get into trouble when they’re put in early help situations. They lose rebounding position and the guards don’t rotate (or even are aware that they have to rotate) and we concede easy offensive rebounds. Lopez and Yi got a couple hoops like that and then the Nets managed to execute some good isolation sequences for Lopez who was too much to handle for Bargnani during that stretch. A note on Bargnani’s interior defense, it’s been solid for a while now and tonight was a tough matchup for him, I was glad to see him get back more points than he gave up by taking Lopez out of his comfort zone and out to the perimeter. He also did a commendable job of keeping Lopez on his back for most of the game and it resulted in outrebounding him 5-3, hardly impressive numbers but worth a mention. On a side note, would you pull a Lopez for Bargnani deal?

Humphries’ energy sparked the Nets late in the first and suddenly the lead was sliced to 6. The 28-5 Nets run which caused the paying customers to turn on the team had already started. Humphries was looking like Hump Jordan and step-backed for jumpers on Bosh and Bargnani, the Raptors defense had checked out and the Nets were playing streetball and taking the first available shot which was usually open. Our transition defense, more specifically effort, wasn’t there and they got very easy baskets off of our misses. Triano called a timeout with the Nets up 4 at 9:18 of the second quarter but that didn’t do the trick, we were really hungover. He burned a 20 at 7:31 when we were down 10 but that didn’t work either, it wasn’t even the third quarter yet, could fatigue be kicking our ass early tonight?

The key hoop came at 5:54 of the second, Jarrett Jack putting his head down in transition and going straight to the rim for a hoop. On the next possession he drove and setup a clean three for Bargnani and the Nets lead was down to 7, Kiki Vandeweghe begged the ref for a timeout. More Jack pain followed, he rewarded Wright’s cut with a nice pass and after Chris Bosh finally took it to the rim for two, Jack found Weems on a great inbounds alley-oop leading to a VC-quality dunk. All in all, our man Jack had 5 assists in the final 5:41 of the second quarter. He recognized that the team was in distress and went about fixing it, it’s a sign of leadership and I as a fan appreciate that big time. Down 1 at the half was no problem. Check out Weems acknowledging a fan in the front row after another dunk in the fourth quarter.

Now, the third quarter on back-to-backs was a problem on the road against Indiana and Milwaukee, not so much against the Nets at home. We didn’t come out guns blazing like I had hoped but at least we didn’t lay an egg which is what I’ve come to expect in these situations. After hanging with us for a half, the Nets had started to believe that they could have a shot at sneaking this out. The first half also made me realize that just how god-awful and lazy is Yi Jianlian is. You talk about a guy that hates venturing into the paint, to be fair when he did drive his shots were about as accurate as phdsteve’s predictions about Triano. Reason I mention Yi is that he finally got to nailing some jumpers in the third quarter as Bosh sagged and the Raptors defense failed to pick up its intensity.

Most of the third was just trading baskets, Wright continued his hot outside shooting, Bargnani chipped in with a couple threes for 9 points in the quarter and the pace was similar to the first. Casual. Very little defense. Late getting back leaving yourself vulnerable to the quick-outlet. Meh. Triano did switch Amir Johnson on Kris Humphries which quieted him down, Amir’s length bothered Humphries and he forced a couple turnovers out of him. Johnson and Banks provided a good spark off the bench in the late third, and given the malaise of the Raptors defense, it was enough for Triano to try and see if this was the unit that could finally spark the team and extend the lead.

Well, it did. The unit of Banks, Johnson, Belinelli, Weems and Bosh brought the defensive energy that was missing for the whole game and extended a 3 point lead to 8. Banks played some good turnover-free conservative minutes which shouldn’t be lost in the mix. When Jack came back the Raptors offense went into attack mode and him and Bosh drove right at the retreating Nets defense which set up clean looks on the perimeter. Simple effective basketball gave us a 10 point lead with about 5 to play and that was that. All it took was a stretch of high energy play to put away the Nets.

Good thing it was the Nets, because against any other opponent this could easily turn into an L. This is what concerns me about the team, I’ve always maintained that they’ve got the talent to make the post-season and maybe even push hard in it, but the leadership and discipline to bring it every night isn’t there and I see it far too often for my liking. I’m a little weary of the Kings coming to town, they’ll be kicking off 6 of 7 on the road and will go hard in trying to snatch the early W, the Raptors have to be mentally ready for that. The next five games are all winnable: home to Sacramento, Philadelphia and Memphis, away to NJ and home to Washington. We need to show some thirst in going after these teams and really putting the hammer down.

At the end of the day we came out with a win missing three starters on a back-to-back. Just try to feel good about it and hope that the lethargic play we saw will go away when Reggie Evans comes back and kicks everyone’s ass for slagging off.

Holy crap! I just wrote 1500 words about the Nets. I’m out.

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