By Steve Lichtenstein
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Even during the holiday season, Nets fans are not allowed nice things.
Thanks to Randy Foye’s off-balance buzzer-beating 3-pointer, the Nets gift-wrapped their most thrilling win of the season, a 120-118 victory over Charlotte in front of a sellout crowd at Barclays Center on Monday night.
Any joy from Foye’s heroics were offset, however, by the sight of starting point guard Jeremy Lin yet again limping off the court with an injury.
The Nets had all 15 bodies on their roster healthy and available for the first time all season on Monday night — for nearly two-and-a-half quarters.
Lin, Brooklyn’s marquee free agent signing last summer, has already sat out 18 games this season due to hamstring and back woes. With 7:47 remaining in the third quarter, Lin called a timeout and then headed straight for the locker room, knocking over a chair in frustration en route. A twisting reverse layup attempt on the previous possession seemed to have caused Lin to strain the same left hamstring. He did not retrun.
Similar to the night when Lin first went down, a 109-101 Nets victory over Detroit on Nov. 2, Brooklyn responded to Monday’s adversity in a positive manner. Despite blowing a four-point lead in the final minute, when center Cody Zeller’s putback put the Hornets up by one with 2.3 seconds remaining, the Nets improvised their way to an upset.
“That was crazy,” said Brooklyn wing Bojan Bogdanovic, who threw the inbounds pass from halfcourt following a timeout. “The play was for Brook (Lopez). I didn’t know what to do — call a timeout or give it to Randy. He was wide open.”
Fortunately, the 33-year-old Foye, who had been relegated to mop-up duty the past two weeks, earned crunch-time minutes on Monday, thanks to a hunch by Nets coach Kenny Atkinson after the Hornets shredded the Nets’ shoddy defense with 40 first-quarter points.
Following a nine-point opening frame on three-of-four shooting from the floor, Hornets point guard Kemba Walker was held to just six points while misfiring on 10 of his 13 field-goal attempts. Foye kept Walker off the score sheet in the decisive fourth quarter.
“(Foye) gives us a physicality on the ball that we need, so he really filled that role well,” Atkinson said. “It’s like poetic justice that he was the guy that hit the shot.”
It was Foye’s only points in 21 minutes of action. Foye said his task on the final play was to set a screen for Lopez, who pulled a switcheroo by dominating the second half (16 points) after a fairly meek opening 24 minutes, the opposite of his normal routine.
“Kemba was kind of stuck in between switching onto Brook and guarding me,” Foye said. “He was like a step late. When I saw him running out, I just jabbed and went up. It just felt good as soon as it left my hand.”
The good feelings figure to be short-lived, since Brooklyn went 4-13 following Lin’s earlier hamstring strain. The committee approach didn’t go very well. Foye proved to be far from a worthy fill-in, shooting 34 percent from the field in that stretch. Rookie Isaiah Whitehead showed promise, but is prone to mistakes. Sean Kilpatrick is fine as a fourth-quarter assassin, but he doesn’t possess point guard skills on either end of the floor.
If Lin is out again for a significant period, the Nets might have been better off asking Santa for a healthy point guard rotation instead of a one-night only Christmas miracle.
Here’s a follow-up to my post two weeks ago regarding Bogdanovic, who seemed to be losing Atkinson’s trust based on who the coach was playing down the stretch in tight contests. Bogdanovic was removed from Atkinson’s starting lineup for the first time this season on Monday in favor of Joe Harris. Was Atkinson sending Bogdanovic a message?
“I think that’s between Bojan and me,” Atkinson said. “I think when a coach makes decisions you get a lot of information and I felt like we needed a change. He was extremely professional.”
Bogdanovic responded with a monster game off the bench, pouring in 26 points (including 13 in the third quarter, when the Nets erased a 14-point deficit) in 27 minutes.
Offensive production, however, was never the issue. Atkinson wants to see Bogdanovic play a more well-rounded game. In that regard, Bogdanovic continued to be a defensive liability against Charlotte. Atkinson promised to revisit the plan going forward. In light of Lin’s injury, more scoring prowess in the starting five may become a priority.
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