Game Notes: Celtics at Nets
Are the Nets historically bad or just hysterically bad?
by Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson)
Before I even begin to discuss the horror that was Celtics vs. Nets last night, I’d like to get two things out of the way:
a) Perhaps Lawrence Frank wasn’t the problem.
b) The ’72-73 Sixers should put some good Champagne on ice.
Hard to believe as it may be, the Nets are actually playing worse than they were when they started the season a robust 0-18. In those halcyon days of yore, winless though they were, the Nets at least gave off the feeling that things would be getting better. They weren’t getting blown out, and the imminent return of several starters and key reserves from injury seemed to imply that there was a corner to be turned. Which wasn’t entirely wrong—a corner WAS turned. Only the road jogged left, the Nets cut right, and went straight off a cliff. Where there was once hope, now there is only misery.
That ’72-73 Sixers team that won all of nine games finished with a winning percentage of .109. At 3-35, the Nets are at .079. Can they go 6-38 or better the rest of way to finish as just terrible, rather than historically terrible? Frankly, I don’t see it. No pun intended.
Thanks to the vagaries of rush hour-ish traffic, I arrive at the Izod Center, AKA The House that Xanadu Ate, a full two and a half hours before tip-off. Surprisingly, players from both teams are already on the court. Tony Allen’s jumpshot, which he launches from his right shoulder, should be illegal. By which I mean he should be arrested for shooting it.
KG and Rasheed aren’t playing, but they’re here, arriving together on the late bus. What they’re talking about on the way from the bus to the locker room, I have no idea. Reminiscing about the ’95 Draft, perhaps. Or maybe Sheed is asking Kevin for advice on how to be a total lunatic on the court without being T’ed up every five minutes. Pretty sure it has something to do with not being Rasheed Wallace.
Doc Rivers pops into the locker room to grab a Coke from the Sprite cooler, and is in pretty good spirits for a guy just fined $25k for arguing a flagrant call that was later rescinded anyway. “I’m just listening to KG and Rasheed tell dinosaur stories,” he explains. “I thought Patrick [Ewing] was bad!” No one asks for further clarification.
One of the game’s true gentlemen, Ray Allen is the (presumably self-) designated pregame spokesperson for the Big Three, hence he draws an inordinate amount of media attention. So there are a mass of writers surrounding his locker when he emerges from the back room, whacks me on the elbow, and asks whether I’ve finished “The Interrogators” yet. We’d talked about it the last time he was in Jersey—I noticed the book in his bag, and started reading it myself. Written by a former military interrogator who operated in Afghanistan, it gave some (recent) historical context to the current conflict. Allen had just seen “The Hurt Locker” the previous day, and wanted to talk about that, too. Meanwhile, the mob just stood there, all but salivating. Having not seen the movie, it seems best to let the conversation steer back to basketball.
Not that anyone is asking about the game. Topics covered include being traded (including practical matters you wouldn’t necessarily think of—”I’ve been fortunate enough to have green in every uniform I’ve played in, so I can pull out an old pair of shoes from Milwaukee and still wear ‘em today”), All-Star voting (“I like the fact that the fans vote and pick who they want to play in the All-Star Game, but it shouldn’t be 100 percent”) and advice for would-be competitors in the three-point shootout (“Get some rest that night and don’t go to all the parties”).
At some point it comes up that this could be his last game at the Meadowlands, as the Nets are looking to move to Newark or Brooklyn or Beijing or something. Allen, who played some Big East games here, isn’t terribly moved, instead suggesting that writers talk to Brian Scalabrine. “I wouldn’t call it The House that Scalabrine Built, but it’s The House that Scalabrine Played In.” Just then, the man himself appears. “Did I hear my name?”
Going back to the first topic, he mentions that when he was traded for Stephon Marbury on draft day, the Milwaukee GM told him that, regardless of how his career turned out, he just had to make sure he always played well against Minnesota. After the scrum disperses, I ask him whether he’d mentioned that to Steph when they were teammates last season. No, he says, but he tells a different story: “I always tell Steph, because when the trade went down, he got all the Bucks hats and I got all the Minnesota hats. My family, we were like, OK, we didn’t want to go to Minnesota anyway, so they gave all the hats to his family, but [the Marburys] kept all the Bucks hats. So they kept the Bucks hats AND the Minnesota hats. He owes me about two hundred grand [presumably the salary difference between the fourth and fifth picks] and a couple of hats.”
Doc Rivers is still in a good mood when he does his pre-game press, but heck, he’s always in a good mood. He’s looking carefree, maybe even a little unkempt, as his cut is about 1/10th of an inch longer than its usual 1/100th. Hippie. He answers some questions about his team’s difficulty with the Hawks before making a declaration: “I love OUR team. I’d like to see ‘em, actually. I don’t think we’ve had our top nine—top eight—guys intact this year yet.
“More than chemistry, I like our mindset. I like who we are as a group.”
Kevin Garnett is not on the bench, which is probably a relief to everyone. Presumably he’s strapped to a handtruck in the locker room, Hannibal Lecter style.
In a three-play sequence, Kendrick Perkins scores on one end, blocks a Brook Lopez jumper in the paint on the other, then finds Rajon Rondo on the baseline for an easy layup on the other. Wait, how many ends is that? Regardless, Perk has two points, a block and an assist in a matter of seconds.
Other highlights before Kiki Vandeweghe thinks to call time: a Paul Pierce driving dunk, and a Brian Scalabrine corner three. Still, it’s only 20-11.
The Nets Senior Dance team (who, like all the other senior dance teams, have their ages on their jerseys and do the Stanky Leg), receive a warmer reception than former Met and Yankee pitcher Dwight Gooden.
I’m not really an expert on things like this, but Chris Quinn should probably stay in school another year.
Kris Humphries makes his Nets debut with 2:10 to go in the first quarter. The milestone is duly noted—by me, anyway.
To say that the Nets defense is wanting would be to imply that they’re playing some. The Celtics are getting open looks from the perimeter, helpful and-1 fouls inside, and pretty much any offensive rebound they want. They lead 38-22 after 1, having briefly taken a 20-plus point lead.
Things can’t get worse, can they? Sure they can. Big Baby gets another helpful and-1 foul, misses the freebie, corrals his own rebound, and converts the four-point play.
Tony Allen gets a steal, is lightly fouled—not hard enough to affect his layup—and collects his three. That’s 46-22, if you’re keeping track.
Pierce drives the lane and flips a two-handed pass to the side of the backboard that Tony Allen converts in spectacular fashion. A few minutes later, Pierce buries a 30-foot three as the shot clock expires, and Tony Allen gets an easy layup off a runout. Celtics by 30.
Can things get even worse? Of course! Yi Jianlian drives in for a dunk and gets rejected; Rondo drives for a dunk and puts it down. Make it 62-31 Celtics. Then, on the final play of the half, an inbounds, Ray Allen goes straight to the front of the rim and finds himself as open as he’s ever been in his life. It’s 71-35 at the half, and that about does it.
The Nets win the quarter. Yay.
Paul Pierce clips knees with someone and comes up hobbling and limping, which makes me wonder “why the heck is he still in there?”
The Celtics surgically remove whatever dignity the Nets have left in a minute-long, three-play sequence with less than three minutes to play. First, Bill Walker drives straight down the gut of the alleged defense and booms a monster one-hander straight in the grill of Josh Boone. The next possession, J.R. Giddens goes baseline and finishes with a two-handed reverse. Then he does the same thing again, only going under the rim and finishing on the other side with one hand. Kiki calls a 20, which is the very definition of too little too late. Unless it’s to resign.
Final score: 111-87. And it wasn’t nearly as close as it sounds.
I have but two questions for Ray Allen, which he graciously answers:
SLAM: When you go up so big so early, how do you maintain your focus?
ALLEN: We’ve been on the other side of the spectrum where you go up big, and then you get a lead, against a team that is struggling a little bit, and then they go on a run, and it’s a ballgame. We’ve all been there, so, we didn’t have to really talk about it. Just small things—it’s like we keep playing the right way. Just keep doin’ what we’re doin’ and you don’t ever look at the score, and just, whoever’s gonna get the ball is gonna get the ball. That’s what we tell ourselves, keep playing basketball.
SLAM: Did you enjoy watching the Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens show at the end there?
ALLEN: Yeah, because those guys, they work hard, they deserve to be out there on the floor. And I always tell J.R., just keep workin’, your time comes, you’re gonna get those minutes that you gotta make the best of, and that’s how you start—it’s the small things that you gotta take care of to lead up to the big things.