Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith, Detroit’s back-up point guard, combined for 46 points against the Nets on Easter Sunday, when the Detroit Pistons left Barclays Center with a 108-96 victory. That’s the most the two have put up together this season.
Jackson scored 29 points, went 11-of-13 on free throws, all in 32 minutes of play. Smith’s 17 points came on 7-of-8 shooting, which was 7-of-7 before a final miss, in only 17 minutes.
So, here were are deep in the season and the Nets’ inability to slow down opposing guards is still a recurring problem (one of several). As Kenny Atkinson simply said of the Nets defense on Jackson and Smith, “we didn’t.”
“I’ll just make it general,” a displeased Atkinson began. “I thought we didn’t have it tonight. Whatever that ‘it’ is, that energy, that juice, it wasn’t there. They were at a higher level than us in terms of their again, call it juice. Reggie Jackson, heck of a player and he played really well, made some tough shots. Disappointed we gave him 13 free throws. That facilitates a 29-point game and that’s a point of emphasis for us, not putting teams on the free throw line.”
To Atkinson’s point, the Pistons shot 25-of-32 from the free throw line, while the Nets barely got to the line half as many times, shooting 10-of-15 from the charity stripe on Sunday night.
“They won the free throw battle, 32 free throws to 15, that’s too much,” said Atkinson. “That’s a big disparity. I will say I thought it was a big play, I think we were down six and we foul a shooter, a three point shot. We cut it down, we get a stop there, there’s one second on the shot clock, who knows we get back down and cut it again so we fought back.”
But while Atkinson wouldn’t make it specific, D’Angelo Russell was tasked with guarding Jackson and Smith for most of the night. He played 28 minutes which came one night after logging only seven before a first quarter benching, never to return. There are those who believe the benching had little to do with shot selection or careless with the ball or attitude adjustment. The Nets and their coach are unhappy with DLo’s defense.
Though, Atkinson did not place the blame on anyone in particular, citing team defense in the pick-and-roll, and weakness on the interior, as well. Atkinson did note that the Nets could’ve pressed on the ball more.
“Yeah, we weren’t great in the pick and roll,” he said. “But that’s a team thing for us. It’s a guy on the ball down there and four other guys had to participate in what we’re doing. Reggie (Jackson) hit a bunch of mid-range too, I thought. He hit some floaters. Like I said, we fouled them so much. Ish (Smith) hurt us with his speed. No doubt about it, our guards have to do a better job on the pick and roll defense and I thought that wasn’t great tonight.”
Russell, who finished with 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting, seven assists and had a plus/minus of -20, said Atkinson challenged the Nets ahead of Sunday night, and also spoke on the team’s defensive deficiencies.
“He challenged us to come off the road trip and get as prepared the most we can mentally, physically however it may be before this game. We could have done better,” said Russell. “We never stopped the bleeding. I feel like we didn’t make that shot or get that stop that we needed to stop the bleeding or that 50/50 play however you want to put it – they took it at us. They were in the paint, getting downhill. They were creating however they wanted.”
In other words, it didn’t work. Choose your own villain.
Atkinson didn’t depart the podium without imparting some optimism. With five games left, and only one at home, it’s still about ending the season on a high note, whatever that entails for Brooklyn at this point.
“Those two wins in Florida really got us rolling in the right direction,” said Atkinson of the road victories over the Magic and Heat.
“I do think we are trending better. I love that we’re healthy, I think that’s huge going into the off-season. I keep saying, for us, these aren’t just, ‘play it out games.’ Every game, I feel like, for us, they’re playoffs. It’s our playoffs, it’s our chance to get better, it’s our chance to get some momentum going into the off-season.
“I hope everybody feels that – and I think our guys feel that. They feel the pressure, the want, the desire to go into the off-season on an upswing, and I think that’s really going to help us. I see that as, it’s almost like putting money in the bank, we’re putting it in now and then next season we’ll get some of that back.”
But they still can’t defend in the backcourt.