Another game, another tough loss for the Nets in Brooklyn. This time, a double-overtime 131-125 heartbreaker to the Memphis Grizzlies. The late game and fourth quarter woes that plagued this team on their four-game losing streak, seemed to be alleviated on Friday night. But it all fell apart in a manner of 33 seconds in the fourth quarter and the two overtimes. Here are my thoughts.
1. D’Angelo Russell’s Use of Screens is Very Good
Russell finished with 26 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, and 8 turnovers. It wasn’t a particularly efficient night for him, as he took 27 shots to score those 26 points. But, late in the fourth quarter and overtime, he was doing all he could to win this game for the Nets. Russell is not an elite athlete at his position, but he is big and knows how to use screens very effectively to shed defenders and create space. Prior to the game, he was working on this during warmups with assistant coach Jaque Vaughn.
Russell’s play is a lightning rod for criticism, a lot of it deserved, some of it undeserved. He has a lot of talent, but consistency is what prevents him from realizing that talent and fulfilling his potential. He believes in his ability and can create shots and make them in big moments. His use of screens is something to be commended and appreciated.
Check out his pregame work.
2. Allen Crabbe’s Production Has Been Poor
He played 23 minutes on Friday night had 9 points and was a -9. Crabbe was a nonfactor on both ends of the floor. He is shooting a career low from three and the field, 33%, and 30% respectively. His production is not matching his salary. Crabbe has a player option for $18.5M which he will certainly pick up next season. This is a problem because he’s occupying a slot that the Nets could use for one of their younger developmental players. At this stage of his career, Crabbe is what he is. Safe to say, this was a miss for Brooklyn. But, next year, Crabbe’s contract will be expiring, and that will have some value in the trade market.
3. Isolation vs. Team Play
In many ways, this is the crux of basketball and the arguments people have over the state of the game. One style is referred to and seen as beautiful, the other boring, plodding, and selfish. The thing about basketball is, both styles are needed for success. Sometimes team defenses can blow up flex cuts and off-ball movement. In order to win games consistently and at the highest level in the NBA, you need to have players that can create in isolation regardless of what the defense does. The best teams, obviously have a balance of both.
Down the stretch of Friday’s game, the Nets were struggling to find that balance between isolation plays and running plays. Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie were the main players trying to figure out that balance. The Nets squandered a 7 point lead with 33 seconds left and a lot of that had to do with missed shots in isolation, which led to possessions for the Grizzlies. The Nets were one and done on a few possessions, which are essentially live ball turnovers. Dinwiddie and Russell have made big shots for the Nets, so it’s hard to fault them too much. But, this team has a very small margin for error given their roster limitations.
Following the game, I asked Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson about the balance in late game situations. Atkinson told BSO, “That’s the key for us…balance.”
4. Late Game Execution Woes
This is a continuation of a theme that was constant all of last season and has been exacerbated due to the loss of Caris LeVert. From simple inbound passes to dribble handoffs, the Nets are really struggling to close games out. The NBA is a make or miss league, and essentially what that means is, regardless of what is done schematically the game boils down to made and missed shots. These three plays exemplify the difference between the Nets and Grizzlies on Friday night.
Nets lead 111-108 with 23 seconds left in the 4th, Russell loses the inbound pass.
On the subsequent Memphis possession, the Grizzlies run a play and Marc Gasol finds Jaren Jackson Jr. for the game-tying three-pointer
Next possession, Spencer Dinwiddie drives the lane is blocked by Mike Conley and is looking for a foul call.
5. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s Energy & Effort Are Contagious
Despite fouling Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. on a made three late in the fourth, Rondae was all over the court on Friday night. He had timely buckets, good defense and hustled on every play. It’s cliche but a lot of his impact was not evident in the box score. Rondae finished with 15 points and 3 rebounds. He played 38 minutes and was involved in every 50/50 play. At the end of the day, this was a loss for the Nets and all of Rondae’s hustle and effort didn’t lead to a win. But, he is the type of player the Nets will need going forward, as they look to build a playoff roster.