Coming into this game, the Nets found themselves in yet another hole this season, losers of three straight. After playing three games in four nights against all teams with winning records, the Nets were home to play the tanking 76ers.
Brooklyn's most recent loss was Saturday night in Indiana, where their efforts fell just short, losing 97-96. This past weekend has been terrible for the Nets on the boards. Saturday, they were out-rebounded 46-27, while recovering from a record-low 17 team rebounds the night before against Oklahoma City.
Tonight, the Nets were down to just 10 healthy bodies after the news that Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko, and Andray Blatche were out with injuries. This game got off to a very sloppy beginning, both teams combining for five turnovers in the first five minutes of the game. Despite the sloppy start from both teams, the Nets jumped out to a 16-2 start, forcing the 76ers to call two quick timeouts.
Ball movement early was a major aspect for the Nets. As we've seen with the "small" lineup Kidd installed earlier in the season, Paul Pierce playing at the power forward position enables the Nets to spread the floor and be serious threats from the perimeter. This wouldn't last very long. After starting this game just 2-9 from the field, the Sixers caught fire, resulting in a 10-3 run to finish off the first quarter. The Nets on the other hand, became ice cold from the field, being held without a field goal in the last five minutes of the quarter. Besides the late quarter woes, the Nets still led 24-16 going into the second quarter. Deron Williams led the way early for the Nets scoring 7 points on 3-6 shooting.
As expected, the Nets had to rely on their bench. They came out with a different look in the second quarter, starting Marquis Teague at the point guard. The backups struggled defensively, letting the 76ers back into the game. It took the Nets a little over two minutes to find their offense, scoring their first field goal since the 5:40 mark in the first quarter.
Between foul trouble and turnovers, the Nets were only beating themselves. Brooklyn was over the foul limit with 6:40 remaining in the second quarter. Clearly, with only 10 guys available, foul trouble is exactly what the Nets needed to avoid. Let me remind you: The Nets led 21-4 to start this game off-- After going ice cold, they found themselves down 42-37, resulting in a 38-16 run for Philadelphia throughout the half.
Luckily for the Nets, the inconsistent play didn't last much longer. They started to force the ball to Paul Pierce, who finally got the Nets back on track in this game. They carried momentum into the final stages of the half behind Pierce's 15 points, 10 of which were at the line. Along with Pierce, Shaun Livingston played aggressive defense, grabbing 5 steals leading to easy baskets for the Nets. Brooklyn went sprinting into the second half, ending on a 15-4 run, while ending the half with a 54-49 lead.
Similar to the way the first half went, the 76ers started off the half with three turnovers. The Nets continued their defensive intensity displayed late in the second quarter. They forced three early turnovers, which set their offense up for success. Clearly the momentum was carried into the second half, as the Nets had a 13-5 run to start off the first five minutes of the half. This game was quickly getting out of hand.
Quick stat: Through 29 minutes of play, the Nets forced 21 turnovers! Considering the Nets were missing Kirilenko, this is pretty impressive. With 4 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Nets captured their largest lead of the night; 78-59. Suddenly, the woes from the three game losing streak started to fade. Brooklyn finally looked in rhythm, ending the third quarter with a secure 84-69 lead. Paul Pierce continued to lead all scorers with 21 points on 5-7 shooting.
Deja Vu kicked into the minds of Nets fans. As they wondered where they have seen this start to a quarter before, let's reminisce back to the second quarter. The Nets were playing good basketball, but when there isn't a true point guard on the floor, they consistently struggle. The 76ers got off to a 11-3 start, as the Nets watched their 14 point lead diminish to single digits just two minutes into the quarter.
The resurgence of the 76ers was put on the back of Tony Wroten and Michael Carter-Willams. Philadelphia found themselves down just 5 when Mirza Teletovic nailed his 5th three-pointer of the game, putting a halt to the 76ers heavy comeback. The 76ers really tested the Nets when they trailed 97-95 with 4 minutes to go in the game. Deron Williams stepped up to the plate, acquiring the leadership Nets fans have been seeking all year-- hitting a huge fadeaway jump shot, followed by a great pass to a running Mirza Teletovic who laid it home plus the foul. After Teletovic hit on the Nets 28th free throw of the night, Brooklyn extended their lead to 7.
The Nets led 104-99 with under a minute left in the game. After two lay-up attempts from Philly, Kevin Garnett came up with a huge block on Evan Turner, giving Garnett his fifth block of the night. Still, Philly maintained possession. With a penetration from Michael Carter-Williams, he kicked it to James Anderson waiting on the perimeter, knocked down the biggest three of the game, bringing the Sixers within 2. With 20 seconds left, it turned into a free throw game for the Nets. We saw the other night against Toronto, the Nets faded in this situation. Not tonight.
Paul Pierce knocked down the two free throws given, making it a four point game with 10 seconds left. Shaun Livingston capped off his incredible night, stealing the ball on the next possession, leading to two more free throws for the Nets. Game over. Final score: 108-102. Paul Pierce ended up leading the way with 23 points. Along with Pierce, Deron Williams and Mirza Teletovic combined for 41 points-- Shaun Livingston led the Nets defense contributing 7 steals, sealing a close call in the end.
Pierce, however, wasn't happy with the way the team played.
“You know, a win is a win, but you can’t be happy with the way we closed the game,” Pierce said after the game. “We gave up lay-ups, three’s … we were up 19, and let them back in the game a couple times in this game.
“If we play like that come Thursday [against the Spurs at home], then we can’t expect to walk away with a win."
The Nets put an end to their three game losing streak, and look to improve their record to 22-25 this Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs.
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