The Nets suffered their 40th loss of the season Wednesday night thanks to another fourth quarter collapse. They led the entire 36 minutes leading up to the fourth, after allowing a season-low for points in a half and points through three quarters.
All they had to do was finish.
In the early portion of the season they struggled in the third quarter. As of late, it hasn’t been the third quarter woes, but rather the fourth quarter woes.
They continue to make mistakes that are simply inexcusable when all you have to do is finish out the game. Should be simple: do what you’ve been doing for three quarters. Instead of playing to win, they’re playing to avoid losing, not an uncommon problem when you lose so much. You’ll notice the ball movement stops, the offense becomes stagnant, an abundance of turnovers and the defense, well, the defense isn’t very good in any of the quarters.
This brings up the topic of leadership.
Over the years, the Nets, especially the teams in Brooklyn, have failed to find a real “leader”. The only thing that saved them from this type of conversation was Joe Johnson’s late-game heroics through the first four seasons.
Joe Johnson ain’t walking through that door anytime soon.
So, you look at a team like the Nets. Their roster is compiled of six players who have spent most of their careers in the D-League, two veterans way out of their prime, two rookies, two sophomores, two above-average role players and then Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin.
This is where the issues lie. Jeremy Lin was supposed to be the leader of this team. Before the season, we constantly noted how Kenny Atkinson needs Jeremy Lin as bad as Jeremy Lin needs Kenny Atkinson. They’re both leaders, Kenny on the sidelines and at practice, and Jeremy on/off the court. As Lin said in an interview Thursday night with Weibo, the big Chinese social media site, they talk, text, have dinner, etc.
Lin’s has hit big shots throughout his career and he appeared ready for the moment. He was deemed the leader of this Brooklyn Nets team before the season even started.
“We believe it, I and Sean Marks, our GM believe he can do it and I think the second part [of what's different] is the leadership role,” Kenny Atkinson told Frank Isola on SiriusXM. “Maybe he's the guy coming off the bench in Charlotte in Houston, he was fourth of fifth fiddle, this is a different role, this is a leadership role.”
Everybody expected Lin to be the leader, particularly him. He had the keys.
"I always wanted to be a leader," Lin told ESPN at Nets Media Day. "Three months after I joined the Rockets, James Harden was on board so he became the leader. The situation with the Lakers wasn't good either. I just didn't have the opportunity to prove myself. But I think I have a pretty good chance this time."
We all know how that went. Lin hurt his hamstring and has only played 12 of 49 games thus far. It’s a small sample size, but the team started off 2-3 with him in the lineup, was 4-5 a few games later, a scrappy bunch that pushed the other team.
So, having a leader —a good leader— is perhaps the most important thing in building a winning culture. Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson qualify, but they aren’t the ones on the court.
That brings one-time All-Star Brook Lopez into the conversation. Lopez is notorious for struggling in the big moment. Oftentimes throughout his career, you’ll notice that his numbers generally fall off in the fourth quarter. P.J. Carlesimo once benched him in favor of Andray Blatche (!) three straight fourth quarters.
He currently ranks 58th in the NBA for clutch scoring and his numbers decrease heavily as the game goes on. He averages six points (48 percent) in the first, 5.5 (48 percent) in the second and 4.7 (50 percent) in the third.
But then in the fourth quarter, Lopez averages a game-low 4.3 points on another game-low 40 percent shooting. His 3-point shooting, which has clearly improved this year, drops to 24 percent in the fourth as well.
After a recent loss to the Miami Heat in which the Nets blew an 18-point fourth quarter lead, Lopez brought up the issue. “As the leader, I’ve got to do a better job of keeping us in our flow in the offense and doing what got us there.”
There are other guys on the roster that can make a name for themselves and step up when needed. However, the difference between them and Lopez is that he’s the offensive star of the team. He’s expected to step up in these situations. The Nets literally have no other options.
It’s become a sad sight to behold. If the situation went as planned, the Nets probably wouldn’t be in this mess. One of the front office’s biggest attractions to Jeremy Lin was the leadership quality it promised him, on the court, with the young players off it.
The Nets have lost that for a large portion of the season. Don’t call it a lost season, but on this team filled with young guys looking to get better with continuity and growth, a vocal leader -- on and off the court -- is absolutely necessary.
Unfortunately, that guy has been watching from the sideline in a sports jacket.