Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams wasn’t exactly expected to dominate his team’s second-round series against the Miami Heat. Anyone who had watched him closely during his snake-bitten 2013-14 regular season would never have assumed he could tilt the matchup by his lonesome, but he was considered to be one of the driving forces behind what many predicted to be a competitive matchup between the two squads. After all, Williams is equal parts savvy and talent, he’s paid like a superstar, and what better time than a nationally televised conference semifinal series against the defending champs to turn it all around?
D-Will still has time to turn it all around, we suppose, because nothing could be lower than this. The Nets guard failed to score a single point in Thursday night’s Game 2 loss to the Heat, missing all nine of his shots from the field in a 94-82 loss. The loss put Brooklyn down 0-2 in its series, a technical stark turnaround from a regular-season run against Miami that saw the Nets take all four games against the defending champs.
“Technical” because, somewhat famously, caveats abounded regarding that 4-0 run. Dwyane Wade missed plenty of time, three of the games were one-point Heat losses, and one other game was a double-overtime slogfest. Few considered the Nets to be Miami’s equal entering this series, despite the regular-season sweep, but the first two contests of this second-round matchup will have most Nets fans wondering if their team can even take a game as the series shifts to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4. This is not how a near-$200 million payroll (including coaches and luxury taxes) is supposed to go out.
The Nets started well, at least. The team basically ran a modified zone in response to the Heat securing lay-in after lay-in during Game 1, crowding the paint and watching as the Heat walked their way into possessions, with the champs failing to show the sort of half-court immediacy that dotted the team’s 107-86 win Tuesday night. Nets guard Shaun Livingston was allowed several in-between looks offensively, on his way to a 6-of-9 shooting night, and Paul Pierce rebounded from a 3-of-8 Game 1 showing to contribute 13 points on a 5-of-11 mark from the floor.
Still, one can’t help shake the feeling that the Nets are a tired, old and unconfident bunch.
Williams’ woes were obvious from the outset. He has battled ankle problems since the exhibition season, and his tilting, one-foot jumpers seemed a direct result of lingering pain in his problem areas. Center Kevin Garnett did well to crash the boards (12 rebounds, five offensive) and help defensively, but he was constantly turning down looks near the rim while shot blockers like LeBron James and Chris Andersen loomed.
Worse, K.G. completely pulled the string on a short jump hook in the paint with 5 1/2 minutes left in the game, one that would have pulled the Nets to within two points. Instead, the Heat went on a 12-5 run to clinch the contest.
In was sad to watch, as the 2004 NBA MVP and 2008 NBA champion ran back up court with his head down after missing the shot he’s made thousands of times in his career. Shaun Livingston replaced Garnett soon after, and a lineup of “bigs” featuring Pierce and Mirza Teletovic (who nailed six 3-pointers in the loss) failed to patrol the glass as a result. With their leading rebounder sitting, the Nets allowed Miami to rattle off a 100-second “possession” featuring three offensive rebounds, one that finished with a James lay-in to seal the game with two minutes to go.
It would be the second straight 22-point game for James, five below his regular season average, and a telling number considering the help he’s received. Chris Bosh chipped in with 18 points, seemingly without a single play called for him, Mario Chalmers added a needed 11, and Ray Allen was once again huge in Miami’s eighth straight (dating back to 2013) postseason victory.
Aggressive on both ends, Allen pulled in eight rebounds (that’s 12 in the series in over 53 minutes; not bad for a shooting guard drafted just one year after Garnett) and scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. The future Hall of Famer was cutting in ways that didn’t just free him up for long 3-point looks, his defense was sound in spite of the tread on those tires, and he found former Seattle SuperSonics teammate Rashard Lewis for two corner 3-pointers in the Miami win.
Brooklyn’s hope was always to keep things close, and to see what a talented core of game-winners like Joe Johnson, Pierce, Williams and Garnett could pull off in the game’s final minutes. If Williams continues to be hobbled, if K.G. continues to show signs of age, and if both players continue to play an insecure, unsure brand of basketball, this series could be over in four, and Miami’s home crowd may never have to see these Nets again.
Which would allow the Heat all sorts of rest while their eventual third-round opponents battle it out in Indiana and Washington. You can’t say the champs haven’t earned that.
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