No, you weren’t dreaming, Brooklyn Nets fans.
Wednesday night’s road triumph over the Houston Rockets actually happened in real life, and we were finally able to see a glimmer of hope in Lionel Hollins’ squad. Thanks to a strong performance from the bench, the Nets out-rebounded, out-shot and out-blocked the 2015 Western Conference finalists en route to a 106-98 victory.
What exactly did Brooklyn do right to earn a road win against James Harden and Co., and how can they use this win as a springboard to regain respectability?
Firstly, the Nets took advantage of one of the sport’s ultimate equalizers: rebounding. They dominated the glass, gobbling up 60 boards compared to Houston’s 45. Brooklyn’s persistence on the offensive glass, including five O-boards from Brook Lopez, helped give it a boatload of second-chance buckets.
Nets finished the win with 20 offensive rebounds & 33 second-chance points.
— devin kharpertian (@uuords) November 12, 2015
It was truly a group effort in the paint. All 10 Nets who played snagged multiple rebounds and eight of them hauled in at least four boards. That kind of collective effort on the glass needs to happen every night if they want to keep games close.
The beauty of the rebounding dominance is that it helped compensate for relatively inefficient low-post offense. Brooklyn shot 17-of-39 (44 percent) near the rim, but the volume of second-chance possessions helped the Nets climb north of 100 points.
Hollins’ crew also showed some life from three-point land, going 8-of-17 (47 percent) from beyond the arc to keep the Rockets’ defense honest. They moved the ball extremely well, actively looked for shooters on the weak side and converted at a high rate.
Shane Larkin led the long-range barrage, hitting 3-of-4 triples as part of his 15-point outburst off the bench. The Nets would love to see his aggression pay off more in the future:
Shane Larkin said he hadn't been playing as aggressive as he should. Felt he was more aggressive tonight in taking shots and driving to rim
— Rod Boone (@rodboone) November 12, 2015
Another aspect of the victory the Nets must continue to cultivate is Joe Johnson’s facilitating.
His nickname isn’t “Iso Joe” for nothing, and he’s rightfully been criticized for being an inefficient one-on-one player, but Wednesday’s 10-assist outing reminded us about his passing skills.
Johnson’s ability to come off screens, hit the open man and pass out of traffic enabled Lopez to have a big first half and Bojan Bogdanovic to have a huge second half. His distribution helped get Bogey into a rhythm and score 22 points off the bench, spearheading a 56-point night from the reserves.
Johnson seemed to fare much better when attacking the hoop from the top of the key rather than backing opponents down from the short corner. Brooklyn would do well to engineer more screens for him toward the middle of the floor.
As for the defense? It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it got the job done, especially in the fourth quarter.
In the first half, the Nets had trouble executing the simple task of getting back on defense and preventing transition points. The Rockets’ leak-out buckets helped keep them in the game early, and it’s part of the reason they scored 98 points despite shooting 24 percent from three-point land.
Speaking of the Nets’ perimeter defense, it’s still a huge work in progress. Houston went 8-of-34 from deep, and Harden was limited to 23 points on 8-of-22 shooting, but Johnson admitted that Brooklyn caught the Rockets on an off night:
Joe Johnson was honest after the game, saying Nets did their best to limit Harden – but that he just missed some good looks.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) November 12, 2015
Don’t worry, the Nets did plenty of positive things on defense.
In addition to their strong rebounding performances, Lopez and Robinson did a masterful job protecting the rim. They didn’t allow Dwight Howard many favorable post-up opportunities, and Lopez came up with a couple of crucial rejections on Howard late in the fourth quarter to preserve the Nets’ lead. Lopez finished with an eye-popping five blocks
The Nets also did a solid job minimizing Ty Lawson’s presence. Houston’s speedy playmaker never seemed to gain a rhythm and consistently attack, thanks to Brooklyn’s collective effort to keep him out of the paint.
Kevin McHale’s club did not look like an elite unit last night. It’s not as if the Nets upended a championship-caliber group at the top of their game. But Houston is definitely more talented, so it was encouraging to see Hollins’ veterans stay poised and grab a road win against Harden and Howard.
We learned that with ample ball movement from Iso-Joe, active hands on the boards and a modest dose of outside shooting, Brooklyn’s ceiling isn’t awful. If the Nets can continue to improve their defensive chemistry and churn out a healthy balance of Lopez touches and Bogdanovic triples, they can escape laughingstock status this season.