By Steve Lichtenstein
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Pockets of empty seats at the Barclays Center. A healthy contingent of fans clad in the opponent’s colors.
Was there supposed to be a playoff game in Brooklyn last night?
I’m not sure the Nets knew, because they sure played it like a throwaway game in January against the Wizards, not Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Careless turnovers, atrocious shot selection, questionable lineups, and the same ugly third quarter that we have become accustomed to seeing all season sent the Nets back to the drawing board following a 90-82 loss that evened their series with Chicago at 1-1.
The Bulls, on the other hand, gave the Nets a lesson as to what desperate playoff basketball should look like. Angered by their defensive lapses in surrendering 106 points in Game 1, the Bulls played more like their typical hard-working unit in limiting the Nets to 35.4 percent shooting last night, 25.6 percent in the second half. The Nets’ nine-figure backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson plummeted from a 16-for-28 shooting night in Game 1 to a hideous 7-for-27 last night.
It was a wasted opportunity no matter how you look at it. If there indeed was a sellout of 17,732 as per the box score, then an absurd number of spectators passed on witnessing Brooklyn’s second-ever NBA postseason performance, a shameful occurrence.
For those who attended, the evening evolved almost exactly like my worst nightmare.
The Nets had it way too easy in the first game, so of course they came out looking to increase their offense’s degree of difficulty.
They were sloppy with the ball (six first-quarter turnovers) and regularly passed up open looks only to force tougher ones (or turn it over, like the pair of 3-second violations as the bigs jockeyed for position underneath expecting a shot to go up.) as the shot clock wound down.
The Nets temporarily found some semblance of offensive efficiency to close the first half. Center Brook Lopez, looking to take advantage of Joakim Noah’s plantar fasciitis woes, nailed four perimeter shots to help the Nets get to within 47-46.
But oh that third quarter. The Nets misfired on 17 of 19 attempts and were outscored 22-11.
“Their defense was very good,” Brooklyn interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said of the third quarter. “Our execution was not as good as it needs to be. Not finishing in the paint (2-for-8 in the quarter) was a big problem. “
The third quarter has been a problem all season, with Carlesimo having only slightly more success in finding a cure than former honcho Avery Johnson.
Carlesimo is often slow to counter an opponent’s halftime adjustments. For instance, he could have been more proactive in stemming the tide last night when the Nets started to settle for contested jump shots on their initial second-half possessions. No substitutions were made until over nine minutes elapsed with the Bulls having built a 12-point lead.
Many times this year these blips occurred with the Nets holding a big lead, making them easier to overcome. When you’re running with the Bulls, however, you’re likely to be engaged in tight games, and these runs become almost suicidal.
The Nets did have some opportunities in the fourth quarter to make up the deficit (especially when Joe Johnson missed a three-pointer with 3:45 left that would have cut the Bulls’ lead to one) but could never get over the hump.
“We dug too big a hole,” said Carlesimo. “You say ‘Wow, if you made that shot or that one’—you can’t make them all. You have to play better over the course of the 48 minutes than we did. If we don’t get stops and rebounds, it’s hard for us to get out in transition and you play against their halfcourt defense a lot.”
Part of that was because of Noah, who was a completely different player down the stretch than he had shown to that point in the series, accumulating nine points, six rebounds and a block in the fourth quarter. If he is indeed figuring out how to play through the injury, the Nets could be in trouble.
So as the series shifts to Chicago for the next two games (on Thursday and Saturday), the Nets will first need to rediscover their urgency.
It’s not like the Nets need to be scared of the road–they played some of their best games this season away from their new arena in going 23-18.
Sure the Bulls will get away with more hacking at the United Center (they foul ALL the time–I think some of the dubious calls against the Nets, like the two first quarter fouls on Gerald Wallace, were whistled by the refs in some ham-fisted attempt to even things out). But the Bulls are just as likely to turn in as similar a brickfest as what the Nets spit out last night.
Carlesimo needs to make some adjustments as well.
That all-reserve lineup–it’s got to go. Remember when Carlesimo told us before the series how he would cut the rotation to nine? Well, P.J. went with 11 last night, if you include the minute-and-a-half cameo by MarShon Brooks in the fourth quarter.
You can’t steal minutes in the playoffs–your best players have to go longer. What were Williams and Lopez doing on the bench for nearly half the fourth quarter? This is not the time to try to get everyone in the game.
It’s the playoffs, in case the Nets needed to be reminded.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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