Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nets Escape from Utah with a 105-99 Win

Just hours after the Brooklyn Nets acquired Sacramento Kings guard Marcus Thornton in exchange for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, they arrived in Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz, who were a lowly 19-33 coming off of the All-Star break. Brooklyn had the opportunity to move into the Eastern Conference's fifth playoff seeding position with a win.

Deron Williams met boos from the Utah crowd by starting off aggressively. Consistently, Williams drove straight to the rim and began his scoring by drawing a foul and sinking two free throws. He scored six points in the first five minutes, adding two assists. Notably, according to The Record's Andy Vasquez, the former All-Star point guard has been feeling better of late:
He would not score in the second quarter.

Despite a poor effort by Utah's defense, especially in the transition, the Jazz finished the first quarter with a 28-21 lead, led by Alec Burks and Trey Burke, who each scored eight points in the first. The two young guards proved to be too fast for Brooklyn's slow defense, as they met and surpassed Williams' offensive hustle, driving to the rim and scoring with ease. If the Nets continue to allow speedy guards to simply outrun them past the arc and into the paint, they will have troubles in the playoffs if they meet the likes of John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks, Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Bobcats or Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors.

The Jazz continued their aggressive play in the second quarter. YES Network's play-by-play announcer put it best: "They are crushing the Nets on the glass." About four minutes into the second, the Jazz had outrebounded the Nets 19-9 and built a 38-26 lead. The Jazz played a simple game – using their ballhandlers to attack the rim and running high pick-and-rolls – and it proved to be highly effective.

The Nets then began hanging around in the paint on offense, going on an 8-0 run and scoring the last five of those within the restricted zone (one was a free throw by Andray Blatche). Blatche went on a tear to close the first half, scoring 11 points in the second and 13 for the half. The first half ended on an controversial call by referee Eli Roe, who called a shooting foul against Paul Pierce on a halfcourt chuck by Marvin Williams as time expired. The call left Pierce befuddled and head coach Jason Kidd enraged, but Roe determined through replays that Pierce did indeed foul Williams on the continuation of the shot. Williams made all three free throws and the Nets trudged into the locker room down 55-48 at halftime.

Pierce briefly left the game with an apparent injury to his left foot or ankle, but returned within a few minutes. Deron Williams had his shooting hand wrapped and took a hard fall, but remained in the game. The Nets' woes on the perimeter defense continued as the Jazz built a 13-point lead with 7:35 left in the third quarter. Entering this game, the Nets had allowed opponents to make 38% of their three-point field goals, the second worst percentage in the league – shortly ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks. Utah made nine of their 19 attempts from beyond the arc through the first three quarters.

But the Nets went on another 8-0 run, spurred by Joe Johnson's two straight three-pointers, that eventually turned into a 16-4 run. Johnson, Blatche and Williams carried Brooklyn through the third quarter, taking a 73-72 lead on a fastbreak Blatche dunk with about three minutes to go in the third. At the end of three, the Nets clung to a 75-74 lead. Blatche tallied 23 points on 11-19 shooting in 23 minutes through the first three.

The Nets continued their fast paced, high-flying play on the wings of Shaun Livingston and Andrei Kirilenko, whose long arms reached out to make steals, blocks, and pretty passes. Brooklyn held a slim lead through half of the fourth quarter before surrendering a 6-0 run to the Jazz, allowing them to tie the game at 84. Johnson again turned on the lights after buckets by Enes Kanter and Burke and the Nets built a six point lead. Deron Williams went down after taking a hard elbow from Burks to the right side of his head, but remained in the game and gave Brooklyn a 99-89 lead on a big three-point shot. He would finish with 17 points on 6-15 shooting and 2-7 from behind the three-point line to go along with seven assists, four rebounds and a steal. This was his first personal win in Utah as a visitor.

Things nearly got out of hand late in the game as the Nets continued to surrender offensive rebounds, allowing the Jazz to draw within four points – but it was ultimately too big a deficit for Utah, as the Nets narrowly escaped Salt Lake City with a 105-99 win. Surprisingly, the last time the Nets won in Utah was in November of 2008. They are now the fifth seed in the East.

The Nets will continue their long road trip on Saturday against the Golden State Warriors. They will not return until Monday, March 3. Along the way, they'll face the Los Angeles Lakers, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee.

Final Score: 105-99, Nets.
Most Disappointing Stat of the Game: Brooklyn trailed for most of the game against a 19-33 team.
Promising Stat of the Game: Joe Johnson had his first 20-point game since Jan. 20, scoring 27.
Scariest Moment of the Game: Watching Deron Williams take a hard elbow to the face and collapse.
Best Moment of the Game: Williams then nailing a three-pointer right after, giving the Nets a 10-point lead.

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