Deron Williams trotted his way up the court down five with 36 seconds remaining. Finally the spring sun peaked through those closed up blinds as hope had arrived for the Brooklyn Nets. At least a chance was present even when they were counted out before the series had even started.
Most importantly, hope had arrived after the Nets trailed throughout the entire game while their deficit increased to as much as 16 on a few occasions. On the same possession with 36 seconds remaining, the Nets forced up a contested three-pointer that clanked off the backboard and landed in the hands of DeMarre Carroll. Game over.
They lost, but it wasn't that final play that did them in. There were many aspects of the game that they could've improved on in order to notch the victory. Some of these things they realized too late, but as they say, better late than never. They'll just have to fix some of these issues for Game Two where at least they know they have a chance. And somewhat of a calm swagger flowing through them heading into this Wednesday.
Take into consideration that the Nets only lost by seven points and made this a close game, despite the factors that ultimately haunted them. Here's a few:
Brook Lopez only took seven shots:
Brook Lopez miraculously had nine points and nine rebounds in the first half of play despite attempting just three field goals in over 20 minutes of action in the first half. He dominated the offensive glass against the much smaller Hawks. However, despite the clear size advantage, he didn't have an offensive set ran through him for the first 22 minutes of action. He got his first set ran at the 1:50 mark of the second quarter, when he finally received a pass down low and took advantage of the smaller Pero Antic. His eyes lit up and he went to town.
But he didn't exactly take as many trips to that town as he would've liked.
The same issue came about in the third quarter and the rest of the game. Brook Lopez held a solid line of 13 points & 13 rebounds, but once again, he only had the opportunity to work the offense ONCE! And what did he do with it? He scored. To put things into perspective, Earl Clark had taken just as many shots as Brook after three quarters of action. Turned out to be one of the reasons why the Nets trailed by 12.
Lopez is a scorer. That is how he leads and in order to do so, he needs to ball in his hands. However, it's not only his personal scoring that leads to this issue. Something beautiful formed when Brook received the ball in the low block. Two Hawks' defenders came swarming after him, which forced him to pass out of the double team and transformed a stagnant set into a fluid offensive possession. It's pretty simple: If two guys are covering one man, someone on offense MUST be open. If the Nets did this, maybe, just maybe, they wouldn't have needed to force so many contested threes. It would've been easier for them to find the open guy on the perimeter and let him make the play.
"We'll make adjustments, man," Joe Johnson said. "We'll get the big fella rolling."
"We just gotta find some actions that work for him," Deron Williams said. "Because we definitely need to get him the ball, that little pocket pass that we were getting the last half of the season is not there against these guys. They're doing a good job of taking that away."
Hollins stayed committed to his ‘team-first' mentality.
"We just went to other people," Lionel Hollins said. "That's why you have a team, that's why you go out and play with five guys. If we had to depend on Brook to get 20 shots, we were going to lose by 25."
Not so fast. The Nets went 10-2 when Lopez took 20+ shots. Seven of the victories came against teams above .500. And since the All-Star break, the Nets are 7-0 when Lopez took 20+ shots, with five of the seven against good teams such as; Washington, Portland, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Golden State. As Stefan Bondy writes: Lionel Hollins will need to find a way to ‘unleash' his big man against a team that's undersized.
More people agreed.
As we wrote earlier, Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas was baffled by the Nets' inability to feed Lopez the ball.
"Their reluctance to throw the ball inside baffles me," said Thomas. "As a big man playing for the Brooklyn Nets, I would be soo upset with the guards. The big man should go into the locker room and there should be a fight with the little guard. He should grab that little guard and throw him up on the floor and say, 'Next time, when I'm open, throw me the call in the paint,'" he continued. "Watching the game as a point guard, I am seriously frustrated that you've got bigs underneath the basket with a man sealed on their back and you are reluctant to throw them the basketball."
Turnovers in the first half
The Nets looked like a team with cold feet as the playoffs were underway. The ball appeared to be on fire -- possibly from Atlanta's hot shooting - strictly because Brooklyn couldn't hang onto the rock.
"If we turn the ball over, the pace will be fast," Hollins said. "In the games where we've turned the ball over, we've gotten shattered. If we can take care of the ball, execute and score ... it's natural that we'll be able to get back on defense and the pace will just naturally slow down."
They turned the ball over six times in the first quarter, leading to 12 easy points for Atlanta. In total, they committed 17 turnovers that translated into 24-Atlanta points. The Hawks turned it over only one time in the first quarter, but 14 times in the game (13 points for Brooklyn).
Five guys finished with two or more turnovers. Jarrett Jack turned the ball over five times in 16 minutes. Thaddeus Young committed four in 40 minutes.
Turnovers are actually a category that Brooklyn averaged less than in the regular season at 13.8 per game. The Hawks, by a small margin, average 0.2 more.
We'll consider the cold feet lost. They only committed six in the second half after committing 11 total in the first half. It was no coincidence that when they secured their offensive possessions, they played much better.
This is something we're accustomed to with the Nets. They ranked in the bottom five in three-point percentage at 33.1% ranking just ahead of Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, and Charlotte.
The Nets missed 20 out of 25 shots taken beyond the perimeter. Sharpshooters Joe Johnson & Bojan Bogdanovic combined for a horrid 1-of-11 from downtown. Deron Williams was the only Net to hit more than one.
"We gave ourselves a chance," Johnson said. "But we missed a lot of free throws, and we didn't make a lot of shots we normally do, especially from three ... we were horrible tonight."
Joe was 0-of-6 from three in his return to Atlanta where they booed him through the first half.
Atlanta is quite the opposite. They shot 38% from three in the regular season, ranking second behind the shooting duo of Steph Curry & Klay Thompson in Golden State. Instead, Atlanta has Kyle Korver. The guy the Nets traded in exchange for a copy machine. No lie.
That copy machine better print out gold copies because Kyle Korver turned into a gem. He matched the Nets with five threes of his own. He was the game's leading scorer with 21 points. The Hawks nailed double what Brooklyn hit on 30 attempts.
Off nights happen. But if Brooklyn's going to hang with Atlanta on the offensive end, they'll need to hit their threes at an efficient rate.
Aside from the Lopez errors, the rest is just nitpicking at things that Atlanta did a good job of forcing the Nets to do. Still, there had to be something wrong if we're talking about a game that was within reach. With self-inflicted errors, comes adjustments and better play the next time around.
Even the man who will need to help make these adjustments possible, Coach Lionel Hollins, said it to the team himself. "As I told the team after the game. If you don't believe you can play in this series you should believe now."
We'll see if they can fix it.