BROOKLYN – The Nets got off to another slow start, but an electric Barclays Center crowd wouldn’t allow them to follow a familiar script against the Magic.
When Brooklyn fell into a 27-22 deficit after the first quarter, it appeared as if the team’s recent struggles would continue. The team has struggled to guard skillful big men throughout the season and Orlando’s Aaron Gordon got off to a 4-for-7 start, including two threes. Then the New Year’s Day crowd brought some energy, getting louder each quarter, and it appeared to push the Nets to respond with a gritty defensive performance.
Gordon would just make four more shots throughout the game and his frustrations boiled over in the fourth quarter, where he was seen gesturing to Caris LeVert after being on the end of an offensive foul. After allowing the Magic to shoot 50 percent in opening 12 minutes, the Nets tightened up defensively as the visitors converted 36.6 percent of their field goals overall (20 percent from behind the arc).
After a tough 1-4 road trip, the Nets tipped off the opener of a five-game home stretch with a much-needed win. The team also silenced some recent criticisms over its play in the second game of back-to-backs.
Here's Three Observations From the Win
Nets Defense Comes Alive
Allen Crabbe has been inconsistent on offense this season, but he’s remained in the Nets’ starting lineup in part to his underrated impact on defense this season.
“It’s just individual pride,” Crabbe said about his approach on defense. “Knowing that my shot isn’t going in lately, I’ve been in a slump lately, I just have to impact the game in other ways. I feel like it starts with the defense.”
The shooting guard’s three blocks helped lead Brooklyn to a season-high 10 blocks against Orlando. He was especially effective in the final two possessions of the game.
The Nets were holding on to a three-point lead against the visitors when Evan Fournier received what appeared to be a clean look at the basket from behind the arc. Crabbe raced and managed to get his fingers on the ball to send it out of bounds. The Magic would get another shot to tie the game, but the 25-year-old again was on top of it, managing to get a steal and end the game.
Crabbe joked that he didn’t remember the last time he had three blocks in a game, but he did reveal that he first earned minutes on the Trail Blazers by making impact plays on defense. He’s trying to tap into that again while adjusting to life with the Nets.
“I’m just trying to get back to old habits,” he said. “If one thing is not clicking, I’m not one-dimensional. I just want to show the arsenal. I’m just expanding there [on the defensive side].”
Yet, Crabbe wasn’t only player to stand out on that side of the floor.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll took turns in swarming Gordon, they refused to allow the power forward to have another dominant performance against them. They also succeeded in shutting down Jonathan Simmons, who had just 10 points on 25 percent shooting. Magic coach Frank Vogel admitted his team struggled with the Nets defensive schemes.
“They did a lot of switching, they’ve got a lot of tough one-on-one defenders,” Vogel explained. “The switching forced a lot of one-on-one and we weren’t able to get any separation or any penetration.”
Vogel also had plenty of praise for Hollis-Jefferson’s guarding of Gordon.
“Hollis-Jefferson was under his chin all night, he’s a great defender.”
Brooklyn improved to 9-0 this season when it holds its opponent to under 100 points and 7-0 when holding their opponent under 40 percent in shooting.
LeVert Delivers Again
LeVert’s strong December appears to have carried into the first game of the New Year. The Nets’ 2016 first rounder responded with another strong performance and delivered one of the critical moments on offense with a go-ahead and-1 bucket with 1:03 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The referee missed a foul on LeVert in his previous attempted layup just a possession earlier, but he refused to let that impact him on the following play. The second-year player finished the game with 15 points and eight assists.
Jarrett Allen’s Career Night
Allen has been praised for his impact on defense throughout the season, but on the offensive side of the ball, he’s been a work-in-progress. While the 19-year-old still needs polishing in order to reach his potential, he showed where he could be effective on Monday night.
Allen delivered a career-high 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting and added six boards and two blocks. The center notably showed an improved touch around the rim, as he lightly floated in the ball on two of his scores. After the game, Allen acknowledged he’s growing in confidence as the season progresses.
“I’ve been in a good groove,” he said. “Things are starting to slow down for me.”