|At some points, especially later in the game, the Nets' help defense was phenomenal, like in the picture above. At other points, like in the 1st quarter, that wasn't the case.|
A win didn't look to be in the immediate-future for the Nets after the first quarter of action Saturday night since the Raptors jumped out of the gates fast, and took a 35-27 lead after 12 minutes of play. In those 12 minutes, the worst fears of those surrounding the Nets for this season were realized: the defense was terrible, offense mostly stagnant, and the fast pace of the game' tempo made the team look discombobulated all around. However, a paradigm shift arose after that poor first frame and the Nets appeared to wake up, got some great contributions from their bench players, and snared a 60-52 lead by halftime, after a second quarter in which they outscored Toronto by a score of 33-17.
For the most part, the Nets were in control from the beginning of the third quarter until the game clock buzzed after 48 minutes of play. The game could have been easily put out of reach by Brooklyn in the third period as they climbed to a 73-59 advantage on a Deron Williams three-pointer with 6:56 remaining. A few defensive stops and effective offensive possessions could have tilted the game' balance in only the Nets' favor but no, the Raptors hung around for a little bit longer. Cutting the deficit to six points after the third quarter, Toronto seemed poised to steal a win from the new-look Brooklyn squad and inched within two points of the Nets a few times in the fourth but just couldn't get over the hump to take the lead. A Brook Lopez three-point play with just 59 ticks left sealed the deal beyond any doubt.
Overall, the Nets played very well last night considering the circumstances surrounding the postponement of their original home/season opener and that they weren't totally prepared to face the Raptors. Obviously, defense was the major bugaboo against Toronto, with the Raps' starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan going off for a combined 53 points. Lowry and DeRozan, as mentioned in my earlier preview of this game, are very talented guards but if the Nets are going to be a contender in the Eastern Conference this season, that's just too many points for D-Will and Joe Johnson to allow. The frontcourt defense was a little better for the Nets, holding Andrea Bargnani to just 13 points but giving up 11 points apiece to Amir Johnson and Ed Davis off the bench in limited minutes. Landry Fields and Jonas Valanciunas, rounding out the Raptor starting lineup, only scored two points each.
Another negative from the win was turnovers, an area that has seemingly plagued the Nets forever. Committing 17 turnovers against any NBA team isn't good but against a Toronto team that isn't prolific at defense? Unacceptable.
In another departure from last season, the Nets went on the break a lot yesterday, to mainly success, led by sparkplug C.J. Watson coming off the bench. Watson, scoring 15 points in his Nets debut, played fantastic basketball, forcing turnovers left and right and converting them into points by speeding up the flow of the game. He also hit three three-pointers in the win to lead the Nets. Watson anchored a Nets' bench that was amazing throughout, highlighted by 13 rebounds in 16 minutes from Reggie Evans, eight point from Brooks, and seven points from Andray Blatche.
The starters also played very well for Brooklyn. Brook Lopez commanded the post, scoring 27 points but only grabbing five rebounds, a scary continuation from his recent seasons in which he has seemingly forgot how to rebound a basketball. Aside from the rebounding troubles, Brook looks a lot healthier than he did last season and that foot seems to be 100% healed. D-Will scored 19 points and dished out nine assists at the helm of the Nets offense, acclimating in his new teammates pretty well.
Some other observations I had from tonight's game: Gerald Wallace hurt his ankle late in the fourth quarter on a block attempt, crashing into the row of cameramen and women right under the basket. The injury looked pretty bad on TV but according to reports, x-rays done after the game were negative and he's day-to-day.....Kris Humphries was a major non-factor, only scoring five points and collecting five rebounds in 23 minutes. The perils of breaking in a new offensive scheme.....Joe Johnson, trying to get used to not being the focus of his team's offensive system, as was the case in Atlanta, scored 14 points on just 5-13 shooting. A little too many failed isolations and contested jumpers doomed Joe, who probably didn't get the ball as much as he would like. Something he's going to have to get used to.....Kyle Lowry (28 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) is a very, very good player who the Raptors essentially stole from the Rockets for just a 1st-round pick. He's going to wreck havoc in the Atlantic Divison and the Eastern Conference this year.....Just before the game, the Nets unveiled their new mascot, named the BrooklyKnight. It's some weird robot thing. I miss Sly.
The Nets return to Barclays Center tomorrow night against the injury-stricken Minnesota Timberwolves, without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.