The Follow-Through: Moral Victory? Not for These Nets
Having watched Kris Humphries these last few years, his final answer of the evening, coming as it did on a night the Nets lacked their starting center and the backup 4 who sets the tone for frontcourt defense, a night they furiously came back on the defending Western Conference champions, a night they showed ... something in this second straight loss, 117-111 to the Thunder, the answer summed up an attitude:
"A loss is a loss to us," Humphries said. "We're not the Nets of the past few years. No moral victories. We're trying to win games. Friday, that's our approach: get a win. We can't go on losing streaks. That's not what this year's about."
Kris Humphries came to the Nets during the 12-70 season, when the team still played at IZOD Center in front of sparse, muted crowds. He knows from losing. He sees something different in black and white, in Brooklyn, in these teammates.
There's no question the Nets weren't on top of their game against the Thunder, who scored 117 points on 40-of-66 shooting (.606), including 7-of-14 threes (.500) and 30-of-34 free throws. What the Nets did was fight through it: Trailing by 13 at halftime, Brooklyn dropped 38 third-quarter points on an Oklahoma City squad that ranks among the league's top 10 with a 99.5 defensive efficiency.
Point guard Deron Williams led the third-quarter charge with 13 points (4-6 FGs), aggressively attacking the basket, driving for two layups, adding 4-of-5 free throws and making his only three-point attempt. He also dished out three assists, hitting Andray Blatche for a dunk, as well as Jerry Stackhouse and Gerald Wallace for a three apiece.
Wallace hit three additional treys, all assisted by Stackhouse, making this the second time in three games Wallace has hit three in a single quarter. His shooting has begun to come around following a shaky start, and his ability to play small 4 and guard multiple positions allows Avery Johnson much flexibility in his defensive schemes.
Even Joe Johnson, who hasn't gotten on track for any significant stretch this season, dug in to score eight points in the final quarter, connecting on 4-of-7 attempts and continuing a season-long trend of solid closing performances. Despite shooting .406 overall (.345 from three), Johnson has connected on .462 of his fourth-quarter field goal attempts, even as his usage rate in the final 12 minutes increases to 27.2 percent of the Nets' possessions (by comparison, it's 18.9%, 22.8% and 16.7% in the first three quarters).
Andray Blatche continued to get after the offensive boards, pulling down eight of the team's 16, and has averaged 17.7 points and 9.3 reebounds in his three games as a starter. Without Reggie Evans to fill in behind Blatche, Avery Johnson turned to Humphries as the 5 while inserting Stackhouse between Wallace and Joe Johnson.
Between the reliance on veteran legs and a recent five-games-in-seven-nights stretch, the Nets will get the better part of two days off. They'll prepare mentally for Friday's rematch against the Warriors, the only thing in mind how to add a W after two not-quite-enough losses to the NBA's reigning Conference champs.
"We've just got to bring our effort out there for four quarters," Blatche said. "Not for three, not for two. We've just got to be out there ready to play for four quarters."
Visit the Nets vs. Thunder Game Center for a comprehensive recap of Tuesday's game.