by Alex Sims, December 03, 2012
The Brooklyn Nets rode a five-game winning streak into Miami on Saturday night for a showdown with the defending NBA champion Miami Heat, and for one half of basketball, Deron Williams and crew showed they are ready to compete with any team in the NBA.
An excellent start gave Brooklyn a nine-point halftime lead over Miami. But the champs turned the tables in the second half and outlasted the Nets, 102-89, in one of the young season's best battles to date. Afterward, Deron -- who posted his seventh double-double of the season with 10 points and 12 assists (and two steals) -- noted how both sides of his team's performance can teach them.
"We played well in stretches and they're a good team," No. 8 said after the loss. "They've been together for years. This is a good game for us. We did the right things at times and then we can see where we didn't do things the right way. It'll make us better."
Playing in the second game of a back-to-back, the Nets looked better in the first quarter. D-Will dished out five dimes and scored five points, while the starting frontcourt of Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Andray Blatche combined for 19 more. But it was the Brooklyn defense, which held the Miami "Big Three" to just five points in the first 12 minutes, that had them out a 24-16 lead after one.
"In that first quarter we came out took them out of their rhythm," said D-Will, who wore a red headband on Saturday for World AIDS Day. "We got back in transition, kept them from getting easy baskets. I think because we were getting stops, our offense was clicking."
The second quarter brought an offensive explosion from both teams, and Miami's trio tallied 25 points in the quarter. But Brooklyn's bench got involved, contributing 17 points to help the Nets post a 35-34 advantage in the second frame, and command a nine-point halftime lead.
But the lead unraveled for the Nets in the third. Miami brought its own brand of stifling defense to the party, feeding Brooklyn a taste of its own medicine. With Miami bearing down on their every move, the Nets committed six turnovers in the third and 18 for the game, many of them resulting in transition scoring from the Heat.
"They were very aggressive on defense and took us out of our rhythm," Deron said. "It was just kind of one-on-one. They were taking us out of our ball screens, pick and rolls and we definitely got careless with the ball."
Miami erased Brooklyn's halftime lead in the third quarter and didn't let up from there, allowing just 30 points from the Nets in the second half. Dwyane Wade scored 18 of his game on 34 in the second half and LeBron James tacked on 11 second half points to combine with Wade for 29 in the half.
D-Will said Miami defense led the Nets to get bogged down on both sides of the ball.
"They were jumping our pick and rolls and disrupting our offense. I think because of that, our defense suffered," he noted. "We kind of let our lack of offense dictate how our defense was going. They just started hitting shots. LeBron got some and ones that deflated us and it was downhill from there. It's another game where we didn't close out the game the way we wanted to."
The game was both a glimpse of what the Nets are capable of, and a sobering reminder that they still have a long way to go before everything is in order. But there's still plenty of season left for Brooklyn to develop a killer instinct and ability to close out the opposition.
"We just have to be more disciplined. When we get up 12 or 14 points, we can't relax," D-Will said. "That's when we have to hunker down and get more stops. That's when we have to execute better and take care of the ball. We didn't do those things tonight."
Despite Saturday's loss, Brooklyn (11-5) is still heavily in the mix atop the Eastern Conference, just one game behind New York and 1.5 behind Miami for the top spot.
But D-Will was in a similar position over the course of his early years in Utah, and he believes the Nets must maintain a hunger to improve if they want to remain among the East's top teams for the length of the season.
"It's great to be first in your conference, but you can't get comfortable," he said. "We're not comfortable being second right now, or third. We just want to continue to play and win and get better as a team. We feel like we're a playoff team. We want to try and get home court advantage and then do some damage in the playoffs."
The Nets get another test from a major playoff contender on Tuesday night when the defending Western Conference champions, the Oklahoma City Thunder (14-4), come to the Barclays Center as the Nets begin a four-game homestand.
The Thunder have scored more than any team in the NBA this season, averaging 105 points per contest, but have recorded two road losses this season in Boston and San Antonio.
Deron will be matched up against one of the most dynamic scoring point guards in the league, Russell Westbrook. The former UCLA Bruin has averaged 20.7 points, 8.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. Last season, the Thunder defeated the Nets in the only contest between the teams, 84-74, in New Jersey. In that game, D-Will netted 14 points, six assists and four rebounds.
Tuesday night's game will tip-off at 7:30 p.m. EST from the Barclays Center, and will be televised on NBA TV and the YES Network.
- Nets Fall to Heat After Second Half of Missed Shots and Turnovers (New York Times, November 2, 2012)
- Nets let first half lead slip away, fall to Heat (NY Daily News, November 2, 2012)
- Nets closer, but can't match Heat (New York Post, November 2, 2012)
- Nets start strong but fade in 102-89 loss to Heat (Newsday, November 2, 2012)