The Nets lost to the Pacers 114-106 on Friday night in Brooklyn, here are my thoughts.
1. The win streak is over
It was bound to happen eventually. The Nets weren’t going to win all their remaining games, but it would’ve been nice to see the streak pushed to double digits. Despite the streak coming to an end, the Nets showed a lot during the loss to the Pacers on Friday night. After a terrible defensive first quarter where they gave up 37 points and fell down double digits, the Nets fought their way back and even managed to take a brief lead late in the fourth quarter. They couldn’t get enough stops down the stretch but acquitted themselves well.
There are no moral victories in sports, and Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson wanted to use this game as a measuring stick for his team. The Nets are not as good as Indiana, a team looking to make that next jump in the playoffs. But, they are a team that competes hard and has just enough to hover around playoff contention.
During his postgame comments, Atkinson talked about the team’s fight, the tough first quarter, and what’s next for his guys after the streak.
2. Kenny Atkinson got ejected in the fourth
Kenny is usually a mild-mannered guy. He has a relatively even-keeled coach and tries not to get too high or too low. But late in the fourth quarter, he was not pleased with the lack of foul calls he felt his team deserved. Following the game, Kenny said teams have to earn calls and the Nets haven’t done enough to earn the whistles from the officials.
The Nets players as a whole often feel they don’t get the “respect” from officials that other teams and players receive. That may be true, but the Nets are building something in Brooklyn. As they continue to play hard and win games they will force the officials to take notice and they will “earn” those late-game foul calls.
3. Free Throws
Despite a couple calls not going their way down the stretch, the Nets went to the free throw line 34 times on Friday night, compared to only 18 trips for the Pacers. The Nets made 24 free throws but had some crucial misses down the stretch. To beat really good teams the Nets’ margin of error is very small. They must take advantage of every opportunity and convert on free throws and capitalize on turnovers.
While the squad has a lot of fight, heart, and toughness, they are void of top-end talent. The more top talent, the larger margin of error. Yes, there were some questionable calls down the stretch but that didn’t lose the game for the Nets. There were opportunities for the Nets to pull this game out, they didn’t capitalize.
4. Rodions Kurucs first 20 point game
The second round draft pick from Latvia has been quite the revelation for Brooklyn. He has been a pleasant surprise for Atkinson and his staff. The Nets didn’t plan to play him as much as they are, but with what he’s doing on both ends of the floor, he’s earning the extended playing time. Kurucs had 24 points on 6-11 from the field, including 4-5 from three. Many of the shots were timely, either stopping an Indiana run or igniting a Nets surge. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
Nets fans should caution their excitement. He is a rookie and is bound to have some struggles in the league, that’s just how it goes. But, he wants to be good and be a part of a winning culture in Brooklyn. All good signs.
5. Victor Oladipo reads the game very well
Last season’s most improved player and an all-star. Oladipo had a slow start to his career in Orlando and Oklahoma City. The move to Indiana and his commitment to being the best player he can be has really paid off. He is capable of being the lead guy on a serious playoff contender and he’s getting better. He finished with 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists. He made 8 of 14 shots, none more impressive than a drive down the lane and a left-handed dunk to finish. it ignited Indiana during the Nets fourth-quarter run and gave him even more bounce in his step.
Oladipo was perfect in the closing quarter, going 4 for 4 from the field for 14 points. He read the game very well for the first three quarters, dishing to teammates, playing good defense and taking what the game gave him. When it was winning time he was aggressive and put the team on his back and the Nets had no answers.
Following the game, Oladipo talked about his aggressive play, the left-handed dunk, and the Pacers play as we head towards Christmas and the halfway point of the season.