Start with Friday against the Nets. Coming off of several days’ rest and playing a slothful team languishing under the girth of their own bloated contracts, I wanted and expected victory. But as much as I relished the thought of obliterating NJ, I was also gritting my teeth at the thought of this game, because Nets games are like dentist appointments: even if they go well, they’re still painful and uncomfortable. The Nets tend to have a contagious ugliness with their bogged down, turnover-prone style. In fact, I actually refused to watch Pao Gasol’s debut with the Lakers earlier in the week—even though I wanted to—because it was against New Jersey.
What I expected in our game was what I got—except the lack of hustle and nonchalance was entirely on OUR part. The Nets led practically wire-to-wire, assisted each other all over the place, out-rebounded us, and—here’s a new “out-“ one for you—out-hearted us en route to an easy and embarrassing victory. Jason Kidd demanded a double-team like he demands trades, racking up a triple-double, completely controlling the game, and enabling his teammates to pile up the offense. Down low, Sean Williams gave us more fits than his old Boston College guidance counselors. The stats don’t completely reflect it, because he only played 20 minutes, but he (and Josh Boone) was more disruptive than a loud fart in a business meeting, holding Emeka Okafor and Nazr Mohammed to just 15 points on the strength of 3 blocks and shutdown defense. The Nets were intense and efficient in a way you don’t expect from them–or anything else from New Jersey for that matter.
For reasons that later became clear, Gerald Wallace looked uncharacteristically tentative. He still put up some good numbers overall, but he shot a low percentage (6-17) because he wasn’t driving. Apparently his interviewing skills are still injured too, because he said afterward, “We have the rope around our necks. Can we leave ourselves hanging?” Hmm. That’s either really deep or really nonsensical. Coach Sam Vincent was a little bit easier to follow, saying he “was not happy with the effort” and that for a team desperately trying to make the playoffs, we in no way resembled a group “dying of thirst.” Actually, if Sam meant that in the literal sense, we DID resemble a group dying of thirst. It was just a terrible, terrible game.
As unspeakable as things were on Friday, they were downright mute on Sunday against Detroit. At the start of the game, I was actually relieved slightly to hear that Gerald Wallace was injured. If you recall the last time we played Detroit, we didn’t have Raymond Felton and almost won. So when I didn’t see Wallace on the court for the tip-off, I was worried for a second that Coach Vincent was trying some sort of misguided strategy of holding out a key player to rally the guys. Turns out Crash is going to rest for a week. And that was the last bit of good news for the evening, because the Pistons proceeded to completely overwhelm us.
I’ve come up with a new term for these sorts of blowouts: “straight-to-video” games. You know how that’s industry code-speak for a terrible movie? It works here too. Not that I ever rent them, but I imagine most people only get movies that went straight-to-video so they can fast-forward them right to the sex and/or violent scenes. That’s similar to what I did with this game, which was tailor-made for DVR-ing. And by the way, god bless the DVR! Last year at this time, when I was too cheap (read: “broke”) to pay for a DVR, I’d actually have to watch a burning building like this game in agonizing real time. Now I can sit in my chair, watch the Pistons drill 3-pointer after 3-pointer for the first several minutes (at the start of the game, it almost looked like Detroit had a bet going, in which they’d try to win by shooting nothing but 3-pointers), get every possible rebound, force us into 7 turnovers in about 7 minutes, build up an absurd 27-7 lead, bring in their scrubs just about as fast as I’ve ever seen any team do it, and I can then fast-forward ahead to see if we ever make it close and/or start a brawl.
To our credit, we actually did cut the deficit to around 15 points or so on numerous occasions. I suppose this brings me to my second bit of good news: at least our starters weren’t routed by Detroit’s second unit—that would’ve been really demoralizing. After the terrible start, Coach Vincent called in the cavalry, which unfortunately consists of Othella Harrington, Matt Carroll, and Earl Boykins. But in their second iteration, our starters began narrowing the gap, after which the Pistons starters—clearly annoyed about having to come back in—dropped the hammer for good.
The Pistons, who average 16 3-point attempts a game, knocked down 12 of 24 against us. After nearly every make, the camera would cut to Primoz Brezec holding up 3 fingers on each hand in an eerily Nixonian pose. I’m happy for Primoz, who seems to have found a role on Detroit similar to Christian Laettner’s on the ’92 Dream Team. I was less happy with the 11 steals and 16 turnovers, and I was decidedly unhappy with all of the open shots we gave up. Even the Pistons broadcasters were starting to get annoyed with how poorly we played defensively—I kept waiting for Greg Kelser to slam down his headset and scream that Sam Vinecnt was a disgrace to MSU Spartans everywhere.
Next up is the Lakers—and to think I didn’t want to see a game between them and the Nets…