By Samindra Kunti – Maybe Jason Kidd should never wear a tie again; the bald and staunch looking Kidd is not a superstitious person, but at least in 2014 his dress code has brought the Nets good luck, or better, good fortune – for the win against the Atlanta Hawks was mainly down to Brooklyn’s positive all-round play, and not the basketball gods.
The Nets were without one of their own gods: Deron Williams was out with a sprained left-ankle. The outlook of the line-up for the Nets was rather smallish, but would prove effective. For the Atlanta Hawks, coming off a 91-84 loss at the Chicago Bulls but still with the third best record in the Eastern Conference, star player Al Horford had been missing since December 26, 2013.
The first quarter got off to a fast start with little interruption. There was much good movement from the Nets and the impetus of Andrei Kirilenko was a refreshing sight. He set up Joe Johnson with a clever blind pass, and then Paul Pierce for a double flush finish. Kirilenko proved his cerebral qualities again with little deflections and disruptions that brought that little extra liveliness for the home team. Kidd kept Kirilenko on court for 21 minutes. “I thought it was 14 minutes. He played 21? Wow. We probably stretched him a little bit farther than we wanted to, but AK was a big plus for us, offensively and defensively,” Kidd commented.
The Nets, led by Paul Pierce’s nine points, closed out the first frame with a six point lead (27-21). The Hawks nearly seemed afraid of the paint. Stifled by the Nets’ decent organization, the visitors were restricted to perimeter play, attempting three-pointers. There was little creativity from Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap just scored five points in the first quarter.
But the Nets did not manage to play through the many three-pointers of Atlanta. Indeed, the contrast with the second frame was big as the Nets went ice cold, loosing their swift ball movement. With one minute left, the outfield scoring rate for the Nets had dropped to 35%. Atlanta pummelled Kidd’s troop by 31-19, including a 11-0 run. With 28.8 seconds remaining, Paul Millsap hit another three-pointer for the Hawks as they took command. The Hawks cracked the 50-point boundary, leading at half-time by 52-46.
The struggles for Brooklyn were a bad harbinger for the third quarter, which has been the Achilles heel for the Nets the entire. Yet the Nets responded strongly with a 14-0 run. Two three-pointers from Anderson opened up a 8-point lead, 60-52. An excellent record in free-throws, 18/18, kept the Hawks in the game before Teague finally missed from the line, 60-59. A three-pointer from Kirilenko and a hat-trick of three-pointers from Mirza Teletovic maintained a healthy lead for the Brooklyn outfit at the end of the third quarter, 72-67.
Earlier in the season Teletovic had said he didn’t know what his role was in the team, but it was clear tonight he was there to space out the field and hit it big with three-pointers. Teletovic did just that, scoring 16 points overall, of which four were three-pointers. “That is what he does. We have always counted on him to be able to knock down the three, and tonight he did that for us. I thought his defense was big for us too – being able to switch on smaller players and being able to keep them in front,” assessed Jason Kidd.
Were the Nets on their way to a third consecutive win? It was a little muddy, but their industry and penetration around the hoop was sufficient to hold off Atlanta. Johnson’s three-pointer and driving dunk shot should have been the signal for the Nets to switch to a defensive mind-set with six minutes on the clock, but poor shot selection around the paint left Atlanta with a chance. With 3 minutes and four seconds on the clock, the scoreboard read 82-80 to the Nets. Teague drilled in a three-pointer to keep it tight. While the Nets defended solidly most of the night, Jason Kidd must have been upset with their occasional lapses of concentration. Teletovic’s crucial three-pointer with 44.6 seconds left sent the home fans into a delirium as the Nets went on to win 91-86.
The Nets thus remain undefeated in 2014 and for Jason Kidd there were plenty of positives to take from the game: the Nets gelled in a consorted and conscious effort on both sides of the court. In defense, where Kirilenko made another defining impact, the Nets held the Hawks to 34 points in the second half – the fewest points conceded by the Nets in any half this season. Furthermore the third quarter no longer is jinxed for the Nets, closing it out 72-67 and allowing Atlanta to just score 15 points, an opponent season-low for the Nets. Offensively Joe Johnson, who struggled with his shooting in the past few games, made a game-high 23 points, putting a stop to a streak of five straight games scoring just in single digits. Teletovic grew in confidence with his firm scoring.
The Nets now face two tricky games at home to two top franchises, the Golden State Warriors from Oakland and the Miami Heat. Not precisely cupcakes like Kevin Garnett indicated in the locker game, but Oakland, Cleveland and Atlanta weren’t exactly pushovers either. Brooklyn take it game by game, and by the looks of it, have finally got something to build on.