The NBA is at an odd point in the year. For teams with virtually nothing left to play for, it's equivalent to the Dog Days of August in baseball. My poor Lakers fall smack dab into that category. With the sour cocktail that was this embarrassment of the 2018-19 season, I've been looking elsewhere for ways to enjoy NBA basketball. I can't believe I've come to this point, but I'm tilting my head towards the East to two of the year's surprise teams.
The Detroit Pistons and Brooklyn Nets have exceeded expectations as of late. The respective sixth and seventh seeds of the Eastern Conference have firmly established themselves in the conference's middle class, with the Pistons sneakily going on an 8-2 stretch in their last ten that has national writers turning their heads too.
I'd like to forget about this Laker season as soon as possible with a properly made cocktail of proficient NBA basketball comprised of two teams that go out and compete, so I gave two intriguing teams on the come-up a chance. The competitive game that I imagined would not be so. Brooklyn came out energetic and focused from the very first minute, executing an authoritative win over a Pistons team that was supposed to put up a fight, 75-103. The Nets now own the sixth seed that the Pistons held prior to tonight.
Rhythm Of The Game
Brooklyn came out blazing, shooting 6/8 backed by the energetic roar of the East coast crowd to hop out to an early 7-11 lead. The Nets continued to look like the superior team throughout the middling minutes of the first. Their hot shooting persisted but tapered off as the team whiffed on some quite makeable shots. The spacing and energy were still great on their end though.
Detroit tried collecting their bread by out-muscling them in the post, which worked to mixed success. You had to wonder when the Pistons would start taking some three's! They brought in Langston Galloway for that sole purpose, but he had yet to make his mark on this game. Eight-point Brooklyn lead after one, 19-27.
The Nets field goal efficiency really cooled off after the first. They were still hustling and doing an adequate job of creating opportunities, but the execution was lacking - even on easy shots. Nothing made it more apparent than a wide-open, blown D'Angelo Russell dunk and a fumbled Jarrett Allen dunk attempt right underneath the basket. While the Nets stumbled on practical gimme's, the Pistons found themselves in the middle of a surge. A Langston Galloway three capped a Pistons run that forced Brooklyn to call a timeout, with the once-thirteen point lead down to six, 27-33. Detroit was coming!
The momentum to this game was in Detroit's hands. They slightly loosened their grasp on the opportunity as Brooklyn came out and emphatically pushed it back u to ten. Then on an errant, incidental play, Pistons guard Reggie Jackson was whiplashed square in the nuts by the foot of a streaking Jarrett Allen off a screen. Reggie was in a world of pain. He had to be helped off the floor into the locker room and couldn't stand straight up while walking.
It was the nut shot heard 'round the world, because shortly after, the Nets pumped their lead to the largest of the night with sixteen, 32-48. The bleeding didn't stop there for the Pistons, as the Nets kicked off what felt like an incoming blowout, 35-61.
Weren't the Pistons supposed to be good all of the sudden? This game against a legit Eastern Conference power may end up flipping the narrative on its head. A special shoutout goes to the Latvian Rodions Kurucs, who executed a boatload of high IQ off-ball cuts/defensive sequences which led to momentum-grabbing dunks. We were about to see if the Nets could keep this up for 24 more minutes, or if the Pistons still had some fight in them.
Metaphorically punches were thrown on the Pistons end to kick off the third. There were some serious battles going on in the interior between Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and the Nets rim protectors. The refs were really letting them play, which is an always welcome sight in today's era of the tight whistle. Bumping, physical play led to heightened emotions on both sides, but an Allen Crabbe three released all that bubbling tension within the Brooklyn crowd to put them up 23, 45-68.
The Nets then continued to rain in a steady stream of three's over the reeling Pistons. If Detroit kept struggling, a testy, blowout shoving match felt imminent in the fourth quarter. The Pistons just couldn't hit shit throughout the third though. Brooklyn led by a comfy 26 heading into the final quarter of play, 62-88. It felt like we were heading towards Brooklyn's starters resting with ice on their knees all through the fourth. They ended up playing Russell and the other The competitive game that I expected would not be so. Brooklyn held a minimum twenty-point lead the entire quarter en route to a huge, 28-point win over Detroit, 75-103.
This game was won in the first half. Brooklyn's chemistry carried them to this big win over what people considered to be one of their equals in the middling tier of Eastern Conference playoff teams.. The Pistons had the one-seed edge over the Nets in the leadup to tonight's contest, but this was a plain-as-day reminder that energy and matchup advantages trump overall record any day of the week. Playing at home was a game-changer for Brooklyn too, but I think they could've easily won in Detroit based on tonight's result.
You've got to be a happy camper if you're a Nets fan. D'Angelo Russell pretty much comes out of nowhere and becomes an All-Star when he wasn't even your team's best player heading into the season. Caris LaVert was supposed to be the head of this snake, but his early-season injury struck down any hope of that happening at least this year.
Thankfully for the Nets, Lavert recovered way quicker than expected and has been taking the floor over the past few weeks. You're working with young, promising pieces like Russell, Lavert, Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and Jarett Allen while being a near-lock to make the playoffs this early on. The Nets have overperformed expectations on just about every level.
But focusing back on tonight's game. The Nets won this because of their aforementioned energy & chemistry, but the shooting and defense were worthy of priase. The team shot 49% overall tonight while holding the Pistons to 28%. They did everything they could to make life hell for Drummond and Griffin in the painted area, thanks to high-octane performances from big men Jarrett Allen, Ed Davis, and Rodions Kurucs. Nobody on the Nets even broke the 20-point mark. Dinwiddie came closest with 19 on 5/11 shooting with 7/7 from the line.
This win was the best case scenario for Nets fans, while being the worst of all outcomes for Motor City. You're the Pistons, you just won five in a row and eight out of ten overall. You think you're finally getting a solid, consistent team.....but then you get outplayed by an electric Brooklyn team with all the gusto in the world.
Detroit's three-point and overall shooting was a total dud tonight (23% from three, 28% overall), and your only other weapon in brute paint force got equalized by the opposing big men. You've got to hope your shooters do their job next time so the bigs have more room to operate. The thing is, you might be hoping in vain. The Pistons are ranked 28th out of 30 in terms of overall field goal percentage. Here's to hoping the Pistons go on a hot streak so we can get a more entertaining Eastern Conference first round. If we get something like a Pistons/Pacers first round with no Victor Oladipo, I don't know what we're going to do.