Nets Just Can’t Catch, or Create, Any Breaks
Showtime’s still over, we learned again Friday night.
Byron Scott, trying to win a title in this millennium the way he won his three in the last one, turned his running, gunning Nets loose again ... 83 points worth.
In two games, both losses, the Nets, the fastest-breaking team left in the NBA, are averaging 89 points, which Scott’s old Lakers often had in the middle of the third quarter, but in case you hadn’t heard, times have changed.
These days, no one runs against good teams, especially in the playoffs. The Nets are out to prove they can speed up the waltz-time Lakers, but it hasn’t happened yet.
“We’ve got to get back to playing Net basketball,” Scott said after the Lakers’ 106-83 walkover. “And that’s being aggressive and going up and down the floor.
“Jason [Kidd] has pushed it but we don’t have guys running with him. We’ve got to get guys to run with him.”
Maybe they can go back in a time machine and get James Worthy and Michael Cooper to run the wings?
Of course, Scott has been asked all season about trying to run his way to a title in a slow-down era and now he has a team in the NBA Finals.
“I mean,” he said before Game 1, “all the questions before we even started the playoffs were, ‘You guys are going to have to run a half-court offense because you’re not going to be able to run in the playoffs.’
“My question was, ‘Why?’ If we rebound the ball, defend people and get the ball to Jason, what’s going to stop us running in the playoffs that didn’t stop us during the regular season?”
On the other hand, his team is down, 2-0, in the Finals.
Modern teams now work on balancing the floor on offense, keeping two players back to protect against fastbreaks when the ball changes hands. And no one does it better than the Lakers, who are masters of pace, with Phil Jackson’s variation of Tex Winter’s triangle offense running the clock down.
OK, so the Nets aren’t getting many breaks.
Scott’s Laker teams were also fabulous in the half-court, with Magic Johnson running the show, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dropping sky hooks on everyone and Big Game James, not to mention the sharpshooting Byron.
Let’s just say the Nets aren’t quite that good.
In the half court, they run the old Princeton motion offense, which even Jackson has praised as a flowing, entertaining system. However, Jackson has his defenders sagging to protect against the famous Princeton back-door cuts the Nets ran for layups all season. So far, the Nets have none in the Finals.
Let’s see, no easy shots on the break, no back-door layups. What’s left? Let’s see if we can beat the Lakers shooting 20-footers!
Good luck. The Nets may be athletic, fun to watch and tenacious as all get out, but shooters they ain’t, having placed No. 22 in three-point percentage during the season.
Then there’s the other end of the floor, where a whole new array of problems open up for Scott, starting with the one and only Shaquille O’Neal, averaging 38 points and shooting 58% so far.
As if in tribute to his old Laker coach, Pat Riley, Scott believes in manly, Riles-type, knife-between-the-teeth, no-gimmick defense, with everyone playing his own man. This means only one of them on O’Neal, which is cruel and unusual punishment for Todd MacCulloch, Aaron Williams and Jason Collins.
“You know, he’s a monster,” said Scott after O’Neal went for 40 Friday night.
“The second half, we doubled him a little bit. He kicked [passed] it, got other guys involved. They knocked down shots.... You know, he’s just a dominant player. I don’t know what to really do against Shaq now.”
Good luck. The hours are ticking down to Sunday’s Game 3, and Shaq’s coming back for more.
Playing in the East, which is peopled by relative smurfs, the Nets had only a handful of games against the great, big, West post players like O’Neal and Tim Duncan.
Having single-covered everyone all season, the Nets came late and softly when they tried to double-team Friday night and had trouble rotating to pick up the Laker cutters, besides.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Nets are out of the East now and so far, out of their element. Of course, it’s still early so anything is possible, including further humiliations.