Saturday, February 1, 2014

Nets Lose a Tough One in Indiana, 97-96

Shaun Livingston, a rare bright spot for the Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets were defeated by the Indiana Pacers by a score of 97-96 tonight.

It was a competitive game through the first half. Brooklyn led most of the way, but Indiana refused to go away. Thirteen first-half turnovers by the Pacers allowed the Nets to stay in the game. Their defense looked sharp – superstar Paul George was held to just nine points and 1-3 shooting from behind the arc. Brooklyn headed into the second half down by just two.

Brooklyn did a nice job of battling back in the third quarter after a bad start. They began to fall apart on defense, allowing the Pacers to build a lead that once climbed all the way to 11 points. Then, Shaun Livingston checked back in and the Nets somehow crawled their way back into the game. Brooklyn went on a 7-0 run and Livingston scored eight straight points for the Nets, who entered the fourth quarter trailing by just two points.

In the fourth, the Nets remained competitive on the shoulders of Livingston. Things got out of hand with about four minutes left, as the refs (who, to be fair, were inconsistent all night) made several questionable calls against the Nets that allowed Indiana to open up a six-point lead from which Brooklyn never recovered.

Joe Johnson, the much-maligned All-Star, clutch as always, hit a big three-pointer with 8.5 seconds left on the clock to make the score 94-93. David West nailed two free throws to make it 96-93 with 7.6 remaining.

We all know who got the ball at that point, right?

Nope. There was no Joe Jesus tonight – he never got the chance. Instead, the Nets inbounded to Paul Pierce, who immediately chucked up a contested three that missed everything. West hit another free throw, making it 97-93 with 4.2 left.

Deron Williams hit a three with 0.4 left (just his third made shot of the night) to bring the Nets within one point. But it was too little, too late as the bucket came with just 0.4 seconds left on the clock.

Game over. The Pacers completed their season sweep of Brooklyn, which has now lost three games in a row and drops to 20-25.

Livingston was one of the few bright spots tonight. On 10-18 shooting, S-Dot dropped 24 points and almost singlehandedly kept Brooklyn alive in the second half. He has become masterful on his close-range jumpshot, hitting it seemingly every time. At 6'7" and with a wingspan of 6'11", Livingston's jumper is nearly unguardable at the top of its release.

He's truly been one of the very few positive stories of this Nets season. He's the unlikely leader on a team that's desperately needed one all year. He plays with heart night in and night out, and tonight it showed up in the box score. Given his low contract, Livingston has been the Nets' most valuable player this season, bar none. This franchise will be kicking itself for years if they let him go this summer.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn's other point guard (the one who has a $98 million contract) was horrid tonight. It was another atrocious game for Williams, who scored 13 points on an awful 3-12 shooting. In his return to the starting lineup, he looked terrible in every aspect of his game – especially on offense.

He forced shots and looked totally lost out there. He looked slow and lacking in confidence. One has to wonder if there's something still wrong with his ankles.

One truly disturbing trend has been the Nets' rebounding. Over their past two games, they've only grabbed 17 and 27 rebounds. Granted, they've played against the third and sixth best rebounding teams in the NBA, but they still need to at least compete on the glass. Getting outrebounded 41-17 (an all-time NBA low) and 46-27 is not going to cut it.

If the deal with the Houston Rockets to send Williams in exchange for Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik is still on the table, they should not hesitate in pulling the trigger on that. Not only is Asik a great rebounder, but he's also a very good interior defender. And can you imagine a Livingston - Lin backcourt? They'd play like a dream together. The Nets could even get one more piece in there – maybe a low draft pick or someone like Aaron Brooks or Greg Smith (both cheap expiring contracts).

Just saying, Daryl Morey. You know you want another superstar.

Two other Nets that had good games were Kevin Garnett and Mason Plumlee. Garnett had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) on 6-9 shooting. Plumlee was all over the place, flying up and down the court en route to six points, two rebounds, three steals and four blocks. Pierce, despite the late-game gaffe, also chipped in with 15 points and six assists – his defense and active hands proved to be factors.

All told, the Nets played a competitive game against an Indiana team that is the best in the conference and pushing to be the best in the league. They were coming off a blowout loss at home to play on the road in a different time zone against perhaps the toughest, brawniest team in the league. A loss is a loss, and I'm not a big advocate for "moral victories," but at least this time they kept it entertaining. They get a break in their next game, when they play the Philadelphia 76ers at home on Monday night.

Final Score: 97-96, Pacers.
Most Disappointing Stat of the Game: Deron Williams – $98 million, 3-12 shooting.
Promising Stat of the Game: Livingston was terrific: 24 points on 10-18 shooting.
Scariest Moment of the Game: Going down by 11 to begin the third quarter after only trailing by two.
Best Moment of the Game: Livingston scoring eight straight for Brooklyn to spur a near-comeback.

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