By Steve Lichtenstein
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Nets fans attending Wednesday night’s game at the Barclays Center must have felt like the cat in “The Itchy and Scratchy Show” within “The Simpsons”.
Tortured for four quarters and three overtimes, they hung around truly believing that they would ultimately survive against a supposedly outmatched adversary.
But in the end, the rat always wins.
The rat in this case is Bucks coach Jason Kidd, who engineered an ugly exit out of Brooklyn over the summer and bolted to Milwaukee following an alleged failed management coup.
Ever since, bad blood spilled as both sides lobbed verbal daggers at each other from a distance and it continued right through Kidd’s pregame press conference on Wednesday.
But Kidd’s young Bucks won the fight that counted on the court, finally putting the Nets out of their misery in the third overtime, 122-118.
Actually, the Nets’ troubles this season were merely extended, as the loss stretched their skid to five consecutive games.
This may have been the most inexcusable of the defeats, even if you dismiss the behind-the-scenes stakes. Milwaukee was playing its third game in four nights, having survived a late comeback by the Knicks at home on Tuesday night. The more-rested Nets needed this one desperately before they embarked on a three-game road trip.
But you wouldn’t have known it based on their sense of urgency, or rather their lack thereof.
The Nets turned the ball over 22 times, leading to 25 Bucks points. They surrendered 16 offensive rebounds, which the Bucks turned into 28 second-chance points (that figure includes third-and-fourth-chance points as well).
Outside of an eight-minute stretch to end the second quarter when Nets coach Lionel Hollins paired Kevin Garnett with Jerome Jordan in the frontcourt, the Nets were tissue soft defending the paint.
Still, what Nets fan didn’t feel good watching Joe Johnson dribble down the game clock of a tie game, negotiating his move to a spot where he would surely get off one of his patented buzzer-beating jump shots?
Not once, not twice, but three times?
Surely the Nets would take advantage of their ninth life following Johnson’s errant pass that was intercepted by Milwaukee point guard Brandon Knight, who proceeded to blow the potential game-winning breakaway layup at the horn to end the first overtime.
Nope. Johnson failed to convert on opportunities to win the game at the end of the second overtime and tie the game with 7.9 seconds remaining in the third overtime.
“It was (a game of) ups and downs,” said Hollins. “We were ahead, we were behind. It looked like we were gonna win, it looked like we were gonna lose. We had our share of opportunities to win. We made our share of plays that said we should have won but then we also made our share of plays that said we shouldn’t have won, and ultimately we didn’t. It looked like in the end we just didn’t have enough juice.”
It’s tough for the Nets to win these type of hard-fought games the way they are built. For that, Nets fans should blame general manager Billy King, who right now appears to have all the foresight of Homer Simpson. (Mmm, overpriced veterans!)
King gambled away most of his future assets to put this team together prior to last season and then handed the keys to Kidd—a rookie coach just 10 days removed from his retirement as a player–to ride the most expensive car in NBA history (when factoring in luxury taxes) to the promised land. Instead, Kidd stumbled to a 10-21 start before a late run got the Nets to the postseason, where they fell to Miami in five games in the second round.
Only insiders know the real maneuverings between Kidd and management—Kidd claims he was on the chopping block last December (“I think it really helped me to see what type of people I was dealing with,” said Kidd prior to Wednesday’s game) and denies executing a power play to attempt to hurdle King in the Nets’ hierarchy.
King refused to retaliate, leaving the Nets’ final word to owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who attended the Nets opener and let his feelings towards Kidd be known with the “nice English proverb … don’t let the doorknob hit you where the good lord has split you.”
The bottom line is that Kidd was ill-prepared to coach a team in win-now mode and, though he currently has the Bucks overachieving at 7-5, many of the same foibles that hindered the Nets’ progress last season will eventually limit Milwaukee’s ceiling this year. For example, who didn’t get a sense of déjà vu when the Bucks couldn’t inbound the ball up by two points with 15 seconds left in the third overtime?
I’ll still take Hollins over Kidd on any day, no matter Wednesday’s result.
That’s not to say that some of Hollins’ decisions aren’t concerning, particularly his stubbornness as it relates to the Nets’ front line rotation. That’s where their rebounding issues lie. Six-foot-three guard Jarrett Jack led the Nets with nine defensive rebounds.
Brook Lopez’s stats (26 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) were misleading. It doesn’t reflect all the loose balls that Milwaukee snatched away from the Nets’ immobile center, all the Bucks’ shots at the rim that weren’t altered because Lopez couldn’t or refused to contest them, and all the stagnation in the offense that resulted from Lopez’s isolations.
Yet Hollins keeps force-feeding Lopez on us when it’s obvious he is a huge part of the Nets’ identity crisis. Hollins keeps hoping that Lopez will work his way back following offseason surgery (the fourth of his career) on his right foot.
It may never happen.
Sure Lopez is still among the best in the league at finishing plays from a variety of points within 15 feet from the basket. But the days of Lopez backing down and driving past his defender appear to be gone.
It was rumored that Kidd had no desire to re-integrate Lopez into his preferred smaller and athletic system, which became an impetus for him to find a way to get out of the borough.
And now that Kidd has won the first meeting against his former charges, his decision looks more prescient while Nets fans are left to suffer.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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