For a long stretch of Sunday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons, the Nets easily could have started feeling sorry for themselves. Brooklyn lost in heartbreaking fashion the night before–a LeBron James running floater beat the Nets with one second remaining–and the team followed up that valiant effort with three listless quarters against the Pistons. The fourth made all the difference, though.
The Nets kept fighting, despite shooting 33.3 percent in the first half and falling behind by as many as 10 points in the second half. Wayne Ellington and Thaddeus Young sparked the revival, as the Nets won 87-83 at Barclays Center.
Young described himself as “dog tired” and the rest of the team looked stuck in the mud, as well. However, this group found a way. Ellington scored 12 points off the bench, while Young notched a double-double consisting of 19 points (9-of-12 from the field) and 10 rebounds.
Unlike any other iteration of the Brooklyn Nets, the team is low on talent but high on guts. Brooklyn has given scares to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, and it has also added wins over 2014-15 conference finalists Houston and Atlanta.
“It’s really interesting how the league is,” head coach Lionel Hollins said. “Last night, we played great and we lost. Tonight, we were very inconsistent and we had maybe an eight or nine-minute stretch of playing well, and we come away with a win.”
Even with Brook Lopez enduring a nightmare shooting game (6-of-18 from the field), he found other ways to contribute. The center hauled in nine rebounds, blocked six shots, and collected a career-high four steals. He also excelled on his pick-and-roll defense by hedging out to trap Reggie Jackson before finding a way back to Andre Drummond in the low post.
“There are always lessons, but I think they know [how important effort is],” Hollins added. “They were just sort of feeling sorry for themselves. They played road games … had a great game and lose, or the way we lost, dragging through the first part of the game. But it’s just having the fortitude to stick with it. Very easily [the Pistons] got away from us a couple times, and it could have been easy to just let go and let them get up by 15 points. But we kept battling.”
The Nets trailed 83-81 with 59 seconds left in the game when Jarrett Jack buried a midrange jumper from the left wing to tie the game. The Nets sank four free-throws down the stretch and the Pistons failed to score, which preserved the victory for Brooklyn.
“It’s just the fight; the resiliency,” Jack said. “It wasn’t the prettiest, but I heard something when I was a rookie. They said, ‘All of them look the same in April.’ At the end of the day, as long as it goes in the win column, we’re happy with it. … We’ll take it, and hopefully we’ll be able to build on that come Tuesday (against Phoenix).”
As Hollins alluded to Saturday night prior to his team’s contest with the Cavaliers, the Nets have no LeBron, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or Stephen Curry. They will never be the most athletic team on the floor on a given night, and the three-point shooting still ranks at the bottom of the NBA.
But despite the lack of star power, the ability to stick to the game plan has made the Nets a threat every night, even if the final five or so minutes have failed them one too many times. Following the game, Pistons head coach Stand Van Gundy ripped into his players.
“I think what it really came down to is we were very mentally weak tonight,” Van Gundy said. “We got very frustrated, missing shots, thinking we’re getting fouled–it affected our defense. … I just didn’t think we played very smart, poised basketball, and that was very disappointing.”
Much of that is a credit to the Nets’ defense. Their rotations were crisp, and the Nets forced the Pistons into a lot of contested jumpers. Detroit finished the game shooting 33.7 percent compared to the Nets’ 43.2 percent.
In a 4-13 start, the Nets’ attitude has led to positive chemistry. Young and Lopez have formed one of the league’s best front court combos. Lopez attributed that to their “trust.”
“We complement each other so well, and there’s a fantastic level of trust there,” he said. “We know how each of us likes to play and how we have high expectations from ourselves and for our team, so we’re trying to be a good foundation and example for all the guys.”
That attitude has been missing since the team moved to Brooklyn in 2012-13, and it will surely keep the Nets in the hunt in a wide open Eastern Conference. The Nets will not leave the New York area until a December 18 tilt against the Indiana Pacers. Seven of the team’s next eight games come at home.