"It wasn’t pretty," Lionel Hollins said after he watched his team lose 115-100 to the Chicago Bulls. "We showed some good things, just not enough consistency with those good things." Pretty much.
Last season, the Nets put up some very demoralizing efforts that rarely resulted in any benefits to take from the L.
Wednesday night, despite low expectations for the season and adjectives like "putrid" to describe the team, there were plenty of positives (and of course) negatives to take away from the 115-100 loss. Plenty of things were 'putrid,' but if you actually watched the game, instead of the World Series and/or GOP debate, you would've seen that the Nets really didn't play as bad as a 15-point loss may indicate.
(+) They fought back
Despite making the playoffs last season, the 2014-2015 Nets lack of fight and effort made them one of the dregs in the NBA. Plenty of times, they would go down by double digits and just get completely stagnant with the ball. Set plays turned into iso's, and defensive sets became porous for offenses to run around them at will. The Nets allowed teams to shoot 35.8 percent from three against them last season, ranking eighth worst in the NBA and third worst in the East.
(-) Last night was no different. The Bulls shot 50 percent from three, with Nikola Mirotic (4-for-8) & Jimmy Butler (3-for-3) leading the prowess. It was an aspect of the game that gave Chicago a 42-0 advantage from beyond the arc.The Nets went 0-for-9 from three, their first time without hitting a three since Opening Night during the 12-70 season.
You read a stat like that and think how much worse the outcome should've been. But the Nets battled.
They took some punches in the first quarter and saw their deficit rise to 16 at one point. The starting unit with Shane Larkin & Wayne Ellington was NOT the solution against Chicago. Neither guys really made much of an impact on the offensive end. They were down 30-19 after one, and with such a young/inexperienced group of guys, it would've been easy to lay down and sulk.
Maybe last year's team. The team that lacked any real leadership and chemistry.
The Nets answered back with a 36-point 2nd quarter, their most points in any quarter vs. the Bulls since the 2009 season. They cut the 16-point 1st quarter deficit down to three after scoring on 15-of-17 possessions. Bulls led 58-55 at half, and the Nets defense allowed 28 points in the quarter, but the fight ultimately propelled them right back into the game.
It was almost an identical story in the second half. The Bulls went up 18 in the third quarter and outscored Brooklyn 28-16 by quarter's end. Hollins started the same guys in the 2nd half as he did in the beginning of the game. The lineup with Shane Larkin & Wayne Ellington in the backcourt struggled mightily.
But again, Brooklyn cut the deficit down to six with 3:41 remaining following a Brook Lopez and-one. It was another big quarter for the guys in black and white, scoring a total of 29 points in the quarter. If they'd kept the same offensive tempo as the 2nd and 4th quarters, slight chance they could've escaped with a W, or at least made it closer in the end.
Nikola Mirotic hit the dagger to put Chicago up 10 with 2:55 remaining.
(-) The Nets defense was so very bad. Anytime they tried to take control of the game, Chicago would immediately answer back. The Nets dropped 29 in the fourth, but so did the Bulls. Defense wins ballgames and the Nets defense was very lackadaisical. Much like last season.
(+) Unorthodox lineups
The biggest worry about this Nets team is the lack of having a legitimate point guard. Jarrett Jack was out with a hamstring, so those worries only increased prior to opening night. Shane Larkin was starting at point and Donald Sloan was backing him up. Wayne Ellington was the starting shooting guard over Bojan Bogdanovic.
(-) Essentially none of those moves worked. The combination of Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington had an offensive rating of 50 and a defensive rating of 138.9.
Larkin finished with eight assists, but really didn't serve as a threat on the offensive end. Defensively, he showed great potential with quick (and tiny?) hands, finishing with three steals and one blocked shot.
It wasn't Larkin's fault the Nets fell behind, but with more of an unorthodox approach in the lineups, the Nets strived. One lineup that looked especially good came with Markel Brown running the point, while Joe Johnson helped him handle the ball and create offense. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was playing the two, but served as the defensive commander.
It led to 18-of-21 conversions to possessions for the Nets.
Earlier in the quarter when the Nets made their big comeback, it was the lineup of Larkin, Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson, Young and Robinson/Lopez that brought the Nets within three after a 12-4 run.
Preseason is used to measure the success/failures of certain lineups and how they mesh, but since the Nets dealt with quite a few injuries to key guys during that time, opening night served as a nice measuring stick for Lionel Hollins and his lineups.
In a league where positions are essentially going extinct, it's probably best off that Lionel maneuvers some unexpected combinations to use at his advantage.
(+) Frontcourt duo
One of the few bright spots heading into the season was the frontcourt duo of Brook Lopez & Thaddeus Young. The two finished last season 17-13 when Young hopped aboard and 13-6 during the final stretch of the season. Now they both got their big paydays and all eyes are on them.
They did everything you expect from the two. Lopez was nearly unstoppable, finishing with a line of 26 points, seven rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot on 10-of-17 shooting. Thaddeus Young, too, did exactly what you'd expect: 12 points, five rebounds, and one steal in 24 minutes.
Heading into game one, Mike Fratello discussed how Lionel Hollins will try to replicate what he did in Memphis with Marc Gasol & Zach Randolph. He "inverted" his center and power forward, meaning the center focuses on pick and rolls and staying in the mid-range areas to face up, while the power forward bangs down low and works the baseline.
"Maybe this is where you invert your center and power forward, because (Thaddeus) Young is so good around the basket and (Brook) Lopez is so good facing up ... And wait a minute, there's some team that has a guy named Marc Gasol who goes outside and plays Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) on the inside," Fratello said. "They kinda invert, that old Memphis team of Lionel Hollins. Maybe he does it again in Brooklyn."
They certainly did. Eight of Lopez's 10 field goals made were jumpers, while the other two were layups. Meanwhile, three of Thaddeus Young's buckets were scored inside the pain on layups, while the other three were mid-rangers just outside the paint.
(-) Both seemed extremely slow getting out to stretch bigs in time. Mirotic handled the Nets from the perimeter with four on the night, and Gasol did his dirty work from outside the paint where he nailed five of his seven made.
This epitomizes what Hollins plans to do all season with those two players. Will it work? So far it has, but can it lead to W's?
(+) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
When asked how many people Hollis-Jefferson had at the game he said, "Half the gym." Well, they got their moneys worth to watch their pride and joy make a huge impact in his first NBA game.
Despite saying he was "nervous" to start the game, Hollis-Jefferson looked extremely comfortable playing at the NBA level. He finished the night with eight points, five rebounds, two steals and one blocked shot on 4-of-6 shooting. He was often matched up with Chicago's top scorer on the floor, and for the most part, he handled his own.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has that Kawhi skill where you can't be loose w/ the ball around him.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) October">https://twitter.com/johnschuhmann/status/659542554535460864">October 29, 2015
(+) Andrea Bargnani
He may've missed the entire preseason, but Bargnani's presence was definitely felt in game one. He played 22 minutes in Brooklyn’s defeat, finishing with 17 points, seven rebounds, one steal and one block backing up Brook Lopez.
"The game rhythm took me a couple minutes," Bargnani said. "I was a little rusty at the beginning, but other than that I felt pretty good."
Bargnani looked good paired with Lopez, two offensive weapons defenses will have to stay honest with. Of course with a lineup composed of Lopez & Bargnani, Hollins will have to be crafty with whom he surrounds the two with because they will get killed by tough offenses.
And hey, he finished with a plus-2!
A loss is a loss and a 15-point defeat doesn't make anything better. But when you're the Nets and you've been called "putrid" or "vanilla slowpokes," this game COULD have been much worse. With that being said, Chicago was on the second night of a back-to-back and had to travel from Chicago to Brooklyn in the earliest of hours Wednesday morning.
Still, the Nets will take what they can get and for a first impression, there were plenty of positives to take from a final score that marked a blowout.
Unfortunately in this league, there is no such thing as moral victories. We may be saying that a lot this season, though.
"We finally got one out of the way," Hollins said. "It wasn’t pretty."