Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
(December 16, 2013)
BROOKLYN—The world of pro sports is black and white.
A team wins or loses.
A player makes the clutch shot or he doesn’t.
Want a hug? Go find Mom.
So the reality is that on Dec. 13th the Brooklyn Nets lost 103-99 at Detroit. The reality is that that loss dropped the Nets to 8-15.
End of story, right? Not so fast.
The Nets fell behind by 21 points in the third quarter. In two recent losses, a 111-87 defeat to Denver and a 113-83 defeat to the Knicks, the Nets fell behind by 21 and broke like an old New York City water pipe.
When the Nets fell behind 21 to the Pistons, they didn’t crack. They kept playing. And the next thing you know, Deron Williams has the ball with 24 seconds left and the Nets had sliced that 21-point deficit to four.
Williams, who was pushed from behind, lost the ball out of bounds. The play was reviewed to confirm if the ball went off Williams or a Piston. The push was more blatant on replays but NBA rules don’t allow for refs to assess a foul, only confirm possession.
Detroit was awarded the ball. Williams pled his case to no avail. And the Nets lost.
"The negatives are we lost, but the positive is we still fought and came back and put ourselves in a position to win it," said Andray Blatche, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds. "A week ago or so, I don't think we would have made it back.’’
Based on those previous losses, it’s clear that not only would the Nets not have made it back, they would have made it worse. So what’s changed?
The easy analysis, and certainly there is a lot of merit to it, is this: the Nets got Williams (sprained ankle), Paul Pierce (broken hand) and Brook Lopez (sprained ankle) back.
Take three starters of that caliber off any team and the result is likely to be an eyesore.
But it’s the psychological toll, that losing five straight and 9-of-12 culminating with the losses to Denver, had on the Nets that was equally as damaging as the injuries.
“Confidence is something overlooked in this league, I think a lot of times,’’ coach Jason Kidd said earlier this season. “Everyone has talent, but the guys who have that confidence dominate games.’’
The Nets confidence had been left on the street like discarded wrapping paper under the tree. The first sign of adversity and the Nets would crack.
But the return of the three above-mentioned players sparked a three-game win streak, including a 102-93 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Nets started to believe.
"Winning helps,’’ said Kidd. “It's the best deodorant. You feel good. The bumps and bruises go away.’’
“Those guys in that locker room, we went through a tough stretch when we weren't winning. They stayed the course."
The Nets haven’t turned the corner by any stretch. But they can see it.
If the Nets can go 13-6 over the next 19 games, they’ll arrive at the midway point of the season at .500 (21-21), a goal that seemed ludicrous two weeks ago.
STARTING SIX: Kidd might have hit on a solution when Pierce returned from the broken bone in his hand by coming off the bench, against the Boston Celtics. He gave the second team a go-to guy, a toughness and leadership.
Pierce, who missed the first game of the three-game win streak, averaged 8.7 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the field, 4-of-10 on 3’s, 8-of-8 from the line, six rebounds and five assists.
"It gives us the luxury of a guy who understands being a starter," said Kidd. “But also a guy who can score the ball and understand defensively what we're trying to do here."
Pierce’s current role as the sixth man – Kidd has not committed to this long term – is more valuable when one considers that Andrei Kirilenko (back spasms) and Jason Terry (knee bruise) remain out.
ATLANTIC CROSSING: Despite the horrific start, The Nets go into Monday night’s home game against the 76ers just two games behind Boston for first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Nets have three games this week, two games against the 76ers, the team with the worst record in the Atlantic, and one against Washington, the team with the worst record in the Southeast.
Center Brook Lopez, who missed the Detroit game as a precautionary measure after tweaking his left ankle in the win over the Clippers, is sitting out Monday night's game. He has not suffered any setback. The Nets are going better safe than sorry.