The Nets had the momentum going into Game 5 of their First Round series against the Atlanta Hawks after winning two straight games in Brooklyn. Within the first seven minutes, however, it looked like they were far outmatched, as the Hawks’ ball movement and defense had the Nets taking bad shots from the perimeter and struggling to keep up with the Atlanta’s quicker roster. The Hawks jumped out to a 21-8 lead and led by 17 at the end of the first quarter.
The Nets came out strong in the second quarter getting within six with one minute and seven seconds remaining before the half and finishing it down nine. The Nets scoring run was headed by shooting guard Alan Anderson who scored 14 points in the quarter and led Brooklyn with 23 points overall.
Brooklyn came out of the tunnel looking like they would quickly allow Atlanta to rebuild their lead and Deron Williams was looking like the Deron Williams of Games 1 through 3. Despite his terrible play, Nets’ coach Lionel Hollins made the decision to keep Williams in the game until the 4 minute mark, despite backup Jarrett Jack looking like the superior option. Williams’ stat line in the quarter consisted of 3 points, 1 turnover, 1 personal foul, 2 assists, and 2 missed jump-shots. In those four remaining minutes Jack outscored Williams and the Nets ball movement improved.
Down 12 to begin the fourth quarter, the Nets came out on a mission. They proceeded to go on a 9-0 run and Atlanta’s shot selection gave the appearance that an aura of panic was setting in. Yet Brooklyn quickly hit a wall defensively and the Nets Big 3 of Williams, Johnson, and Lopez looked dog-legged. Williams found himself guarding Hawks guards Kyle Korver or Jeff Teague, both of whom were able to score at will both on the perimeter and in the paint. Despite his strong game, Alan Anderson was left on the bench and Thaddeus Young sat right beside him.
Young’s size and rebounding ability were sorely missed as the Hawks grabbed a plethora of second chance shots off of offensive rebounds. Playing only 24 minutes all game, Hollins’ mismanagement of his playing time may have cost Brooklyn the game. With Joe Johnson playing a game-high 44 minutes, it was clear that his legs lost the lift that fans are accustomed to seeing, even shooting an air ball on a wide open three-pointer.
Mar 8, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets small forward Joe Johnson (7) and point guard Deron Williams (8) and center Brook Lopez (11) and small forward Thaddeus Young (30) walk onto the court after a time out during the fourth quarter against the Utah Jazz at Barclays Center. The Jazz defeated the Nets 95-88. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Besides Johnson, Brook Lopez was likely the most exhausted player on the court by game’s end. Playing 39 minutes and forcing off-balanced shots, Lopez was a step too slow on both ends of the court, failing to recover on the weak-side on defensive rotations and unable to get himself established in the post against the smaller Al Horford. The failure to give Lopez a breather may have been even more egregious than the case with Johnson as backup center Mason Plumlee played only 7 minutes all game. Not only did this cost the Nets rebounds, but it severely diminished their defensive capabilities.
If the Nets are going to have any chance of winning Game 6 and prolonging the series to a Game 7, Hollins will have to do a better job of managing his players’ minutes and sometimes deferring to the rest of his roster rather than relying on the Big 3 to the extent he did in Game 5. With Lopez shooting 4 for 13 and Williams shooting 2 for 8, both will need to improve on their efficiency, in more limited minutes. Hollins will play a big part in how effective they can be down the stretch. His biggest change, however, must be with Johnson, who despite going 7 for 15 missed 3 out of his last 4 shots and was noticeably slow getting up and down the court as a result expending a significant amount of energy defending Paul Milsap.
If the Nets’ coach goes into Game 6 with the same game plan, it shouldn’t be surprising if it yields the same result. Brooklyn needs a strong showing from their entire rotation in Game 6, but that can’t happen if they aren’t given the chance to do so from their coach.