BROOKLYN — The Brooklyn Nets’ first 10 games confirmed what we believed since this team was put together back in July. They can score, but they can’t really stop their opponent from doing the same.
Entering Friday’s contest against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Nets ranked sixth in offensive efficiency (scoring 105.1 points per 100 possessions) and 23rd defensively (allowing 103.6). So if they were to pick up a win, you’d think they’d have to out-gun the Clippers, who came to Brooklyn as the only team ranked in the top five on both ends of the floor.
Instead, the Nets held the Clippers to just 76 points, and just 29 on 42 possessions in the second half. When the game was tied at 74 with 4:15 left in the fourth quarter, Brooklyn held L.A. scoreless over the next 3:27, picking up a huge 86-76 victory.
From what we saw on the floor to what we read in the boxscore, it was a breakthrough game for a defense that has been deservedly maligned up until this point.
“We were really active,” Deron Williams said afterward. “Brook [Lopez] anchored us in the back, had some big blocks for us. We had a game plan on certain guys and we stuck to that, made it tough for a lot of their guys to get going.”
The Nets focused the attention of their defense on Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford, who combined for just six points (all by Crawford – including this ridiculous shot) and one assist (by Paul) in the fourth quarter. They either switched on pick and rolls or hedged aggressively, so the guards couldn’t get loose.
Lopez still has a long way to go defensively, but he has been more aggressive on that end and ranks fourth in the league with 2.55 blocks per game.
“Historically, his tendency has been not to get off the ground and to contest the shot more horizontal than vertical,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “So those are things that we’ve been working with him on. Now, he’s getting more confidence. And his body’s in better shape. So he’s getting off the ground a little bit more. I think he’s having fun with it, because he’s trying to do something that we haven’t seen from him on a consistent basis.”
Of course, the Clippers contributed to their own demise with some stagnant offense and a handful of unforced errors on Friday. Still, the open looks were few and far between.
“We have three different areas that we talk about,” Johnson said, “our system defensively, game plan adjustments, and individual tendencies. I thought we were good tonight in all three categories.”
It probably wasn’t a coincidence that, for the first time this season, Johnson didn’t play Williams and C.J. Watson together. The point guard combo was producing some pretty awful defensive numbers through Wednesday’s loss at Golden State. Johnson shortened his rotation quite a bit, especially in the third quarter, which the Nets won for just the second time this season. Watson was effectively Williams’ back-up, instead of a third guard that shares the floor with each of the starters.
The question now is whether or not the Nets can defend like this consistently.
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to do this every night,” Johnson said, “but we’re capable.”
They’re capable, because they’ve made strides since the start of training camp.
“We’ve gotten a lot better defensively,” Williams said. “And we still feel like we can improve a lot defensively. That’s a good thing. I think a lot of defense is mental and it’s about five guys working together. It’s not about one or two guys being good defensively, all the burden being on them. It’s about going out there and knowing that each guy has each other’s back. And I think we’re doing a good job of learning how to do that.”
If you truly want to be a top team in this league, you have be good on both ends of the floor. On Friday, the Nets showed they have the potential to get there.