On some level, it's fitting that the Brooklyn Nets capped their disastrous December by setting a franchise record for offensive failure.
After all, a month that began with boundless excitement over a red-hot 11-4 start — excitement that has completely disappeared thanks to a monthlong meltdown spurred by a foot injury to Brook Lopez, a complete devolution on both sides of the ball, the franchise point guard complaining about the offense, the super-famous power forward getting benched, the stalwart small forward calling out his too-casual teammates and a million other things that led to Avery Johnson's firing — has to end with a bang, doesn't it? Or, perhaps more accurately, with a brick. Eighteen of them, on 20 tries, over the space of 12 minutes on Monday that turned what had been a tight game at halftime into an absolute laugher before the fourth.
Playing without injured spark plug Gerald Wallace, the Nets scored five points in the third quarter in a 104-73 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on New Year's Eve. They missed seven of their eight tries at the rim, all six of their 3-pointers, and made just one of six midrange attempts; their shot chart for the quarter, captured by Devin Kharpertian at The Brooklyn Game, is a sea of red with one brief sliver of green. They turned the ball over seven times, leading to 12 Spurs points. Only one Net — point guard Deron Williams (2 for 6, all five points) — hit a shot in the third; seven Nets posted ohfers. On successive possessions midway through the quarter, Regge Evans (who had taken all of three shots from further than nine feet away all season) shot a midrange jumper that bounced over the backboard, Andray Blatche threw a scoop layup out of bounds and Deron Williams put a jumper off the side of the backboard. Yep: That bad.
It wasn't the lowest-scoring quarter in NBA history — the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors both have two-point frames in their record books — but it was the lowest single-quarter scoring output in the 46-year history of the Nets franchise. After the game's merciful end, interim coach P.J. Carlesimo looked back on his Nets' 10 percent shooting in that awful third quarter and told Raul Dominguez of The Associated Press, "I'm actually surprised it wasn't worse."
The debacle wasn't limited to the offensive end, either. In allowing the Spurs to hit 13 of 19 shots in the quarter — a 68.4 percent success rate fueled by an 8 for 10 mark at the rim, two makes in three attempts from the left corner and sharp ball movement leading to 11 assists — the Nets also "played defense with equal ineptitude," according to Howard Beck of The New York Times:
“Abominable,” said Carlesimo, who had a much better time here as a Spurs assistant than as the Nets’ interim head coach.
So despite a $330 million roster overhaul, a change in ZIP codes, a new arena and a recent change in coach, the Nets closed 2012 much as they began it: looking hapless and lost.
“I think we’re a little out of whack right now as a group,” Deron Williams said. “I know I am individually.”
"A little out of whack" is perhaps too kind a phrase for a Nets team that ranked seventh in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency through their first 15 games and has performed as the league's 11th-worst offense and third-worst D over their last 16, according to NBA.com's stat tool, and for Williams himself.
As we (and others) have discussed before, the Nets' $98.8 million man has struggled mightily this season, shooting just 40 percent from the floor and 30 percent from 3-point land, taking fewer shots at the rim than he has in his NBA career, making 50 percent or more of his field-goal attempts only five times in 30 appearances and seeing his per-minute scoring and assist rates drop to their lowest levels in seven years. He managed just eight points on 3 for 11 shooting against the Spurs and notched just one assist in 28 1/2 minutes, his lowest dime total of the season and just the second one-assist game since his rookie season; both have come with the Nets.
He also didn't provide much resistance against San Antonio point man Tony Parker, who popped for 20 points on 9 for 13 shooting with six assists and just one turnover in 26 minutes before getting a well-deserved rest. In all phases of the game, Monday was, as Williams told reporters, "another night I didn’t help," according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
“I’ve got to play better. I’ve got to find ways to get better. Even on bad nights, I don’t play like this. This doesn’t even feel like it’s me out on the court. I’ve just got to snap out of it. I put a lot of pressure on myself early. I was really excited about this year. Coming into the season, I felt like we had a great team. I still feel like we have a great team and I want to be able to help the team more and play better. [...]
GM Billy King said on the radio Sunday that Williams might be burnt out from playing consecutive summers overseas (in the Turkish league and Olympics). Williams, who has been dealing with nagging injuries — including a bum ankle and wrist — essentially agreed.
“I didn’t take any time off. After last season, I never stopped working out. After the Olympics, the day I got back I worked out the next morning,” Williams said. “I thought it was the best thing to do, and now looking back, it probably would have been smarter to take some time off and get a little bit of rest, especially on my legs, and my ankles in general.
“I took a lot of pounding over the last year because even though we had a shortened season, I was over in Istanbul, so I haven’t had a break since before then. I felt like I could handle it, and at the time I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want to get out of shape. I wanted to just keep going.”
Whether Williams' issues stem from fatigue, injury, a mental block or something else entirely, it's become clear that, with him offering virtually nothing on either end of the floor and his teammates looking more like a collection of high-priced also-rans than a deep and dangerous group, the Nets as presently constituted aren't the Eastern Conference contender they believed they were at 11-4. The glass-half-full take would suggest that scoring five points in 12 minutes represents rock-bottom at the end of a nightmarish month, and that things can only get better from here, but if Williams and his colleagues continue to play like this, the glass might start to look emptier and emptier for Nets fans.