The stage was set for the Nets’s first big postseason moment in their new home on Atlantic Avenue: Game 7, Saturday night, the only matchup on TV.
If only they remembered to play defense.
After a gritty Game 6 performance in Chicago, fears of Brooklyn’s defensive shortcomings — a nagging concern since before the season started — were justified for all to see. For most of the 2012-2013 campaign, the Nets had been surprisingly sturdy on the defensive end, allowing the seventh-fewest points per game. But giving up 61 points in the first half — 13 more than usual — on their home floor, to a banged-up Bulls squad whose top scorers were Joakim Noah and Marco Belinelli? Yikes.
In truth, it was an ending that Brooklyn deserved after letting a 14-point lead slip away in the final three minutes of Game 4. But when Chicago’s 2012-2013 leading scorer Luol Deng was sidelined due to illness in Games 6 and 7, joining 2009-2012 leading scorer Derrick Rose on the bench, the Nets’ luck seemed almost divine.
Yet over and over, when Brooklyn needed a stop in the series’ deciding game, they simply couldn’t get one. And when they needed big shots from their $20-million-a-year shooting guard Joe Johnson, he had nothing to give. The 11-year veteran made only two of 14 attempts, including one of nine from beyond the three-point arc.
Johnson said during the series that he was “out there on one leg” due to lingering plantar fasciitis. By many accounts, however, so was the Bulls’s Noah, who dominated the game. If Joe’s condition was that much more severe, rendering him a defensive and offensive liability, either he or now-fired Coach P.J. Carlesimo should have known to give backup MarShon Brooks more than eight minutes of playing time. How could Brooks — who made as many baskets as Johnson while taking only two shots — possibly have been worse?
Then again, putting a known sieve like Brooks on the floor in hopes of defensive improvement seems laughable in any other context. And during Game 4’s series-changing meltdown, Johnson had nothing to do with the porous pick-and-roll defense that allowed little Nate Robinson to score 23 points in the fourth quarter. In the end, Brooklyn’s early playoff exit — in the least-watched Game 7 since 2010 — was a true team effort.
Matt Spolar is a nearly 6-foot-1 journalist with a middling high school basketball career who is sure the Nets win thanks to team’s top-tier guards.