The Brooklyn Nets kick off their four game road trip with a 122-104 victory in the desert over the young, up and coming Phoenix Suns. This was the first road win for a Nets team that few predicted would be 4-5 and this competitive to start the season.
Sean Kilpatrick finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, and four assists to go with Trevor Booker‘s 19 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Major contributions came from some of the usual suspects, but it was the emergence of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and an unlikely 19 points on six of ten shooting (five of eight from deep) from Joe Harris that proved to be overwhelming for Phoenix down the stretch as Brooklyn closed the game on a 20-4 run.
Things were firing on all cylinders for the gritty Nets, as this was the best case scenario to kick off the season’s first big road trip. Without Jeremy Lin, things have looked alright. Brooklyn has been able to stay extremely competitive in all their games and have flat out been enjoyable to watch so far. Last night’s victory revealed a lot of what is going right for the Nets and how they can tap into the winning formula on this road trip.
Move over offense, it is the defense’s time to shine
To kick of this season, almost all of the focus has been devoted to talking about Atkinson and his stellar motion offense. What it would do, how guys would fit into it, how teams would respond to it; article after article has been written dissecting the offense. But tonight, it was the defense that deserves a lot of the credit, and Suns head coach Earl Watson took notice following the game.
”This is the first team that played the defense the way they played it,” Suns coach Earl Watson said. ”They … made us play out of the weak side, so they did a great job of taking away the paint, taking away the lane.”
Both Trevor Booker and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson commented on the team’s defensive grit as well.
”Defense, it gives you that energy, that joy that you want. When you stop someone and you go down and score, it’s like `Woo! That was fun!”’ Hollis-Jefferson said. ”We enjoy that whole process, the stop and the score.”
”We just locked down defensively,” Trevor Booker said. ”We shut down their transition and made them play half court.”
The Suns shot 37.4 percent overall from the floor on a season high 107 shot attempts. Key players like Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, and Brandon Knight shot 27.8 percent, 12.5 percent, and 15.4 percent from the floor respectively. The Suns are a team that oozes potential from the three point line as well, but Brooklyn was able to limit them to shooting an abysmal 24.2 percent on 33 attempts from deep.
The entire team played well, but the player that stood out the most was Brook Lopez. RHJ is by far the best defender, and arguably made the biggest impact out of anyone on the team from a defensive standpoint, but that isn’t surprising. What is surprising is when the guy who pulls down only five rebounds on a good day ends up with five blocks and is now known as a rim protector.
Hollis-Jefferson could be the X-factor to winning
I could not have been more wrong about Hollis-Jefferson to start this season. While he was in one of the worst slumps of his career, it is abundantly clear that whatever issues he was having or concepts in the offense he wasn’t grasping have been ironed out. Tonight, in front of his mother no less, he finished with a career high 20 points and pulled in 13 rebounds to go with it.
He has gotten way more aggressive and his confidence has got to be at an all-time high after getting some good performances under his belt. He took 12 shots tonight and did a superb job of getting to the free throw line, as he finished a perfect 10-10 from it. The versatility he brings to the team is going to be crucial going forward if the Nets are going to be successful.
This is a team that needs rebounding, needs ball movement, and needs guys that can hit shots from deep and Hollis-Jefferson can bring all of that to the table. While he is far from ready to be known as a reliable three point shooter, he can hit the shot. He has a really ugly release, but he has been known to hit threes from time to time. Aside from that, he is a great rebounder from the wing and does a great job of starting the break in transition.
My only concern, and it is a small one, is how he will play when Lin is back in the lineup. He struggled mightily when Lin was playing, but that doesn’t mean Lin was the reason. Hollis-Jefferson was one of five returning players to this team, he struggled to learn a new system like most young players do. It looks like everything is clicking for him, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can a) keep playing at this high level (he can) and b) if he can be as effective with Lin in the lineup (he should).
Phoenix really struggled on defense
Not to take anything away from anyone who played well tonight or Atkinson’s system, because the Nets went out and got this victory, but Phoenix really struggled defensively in this matchup. The team filled with young players didn’t have an answer for Atkinson’s system.
As a team, Brooklyn shot 47.6 percent from the floor on 86 shot attempts and hit on 43.2 percent of threes as well. Trevor Booker hit a three, Hollis-Jefferson got to the line 10 times (the team had almost 30 points on free throws alone), and Joe Harris shot five of eight from three; these are all things that lead to losses. Without rim protector Tyson Chandler, things were especially bad for the Suns.
This was a great win, and I hope no one views this as throwing water on the fire, but it is unlikely the Nets will see a team with that poor of defense for the rest of the road trip. Tomorrow they face the Los Angeles Clippers, then they face an unexpectedly impressive Lakers squad, before visiting Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. They will be tested unlike they have been yet this season. It’ll be interesting to see how they do against some of the best in the West.
Bojan really misses Lin
If there is any player that has been most impacted by Lin’s absence, it is Bojan Bogdanovic. The high scoring wing has hit a slump recently, and it happens to to do a lot with the lack of Jeremy Lin. In the first four games of the year, Bojan attempted 17 shots against Boston, six verses Indiana, 15 against Milwaukee, and 11 verses Chicago. In the four and a half games Lin has been gone, Bojan has attempted more than nine shots only once and that was against Charlotte, the first full game Lin missed.
Because the team hasn’t really missed a beat in his absence, in that they are still competitive and surprising everyone, people forget just how much he means to this team. When he is on the floor, the team is a different unit. The ball moves with ease and the points seem to come in bunches.
Bojan is a guy that needs players setting him up in order to get his shot. He can definitely create for himself, but he is really effective on the catch and shoot. If an inexperienced guard is running a very sophisticated system, guys like Bojan are going to suffer slightly.
The point guard by committee in Lin’s absence has been serviceable. Kilpatrick, Isaiah Whitehead, and Yogi Ferrell have done a good job keeping the team afloat, but Kilpatrick is a two guard by nature and Whitehead and Ferrell are both rookies. When Lin gets back into things and to his old self, expect good things to happen for both Bojan and the Nets.