The Brooklyn Nets have been synonymous with shaky 3rd quarters for awhile now, but they figured it out in a big way Wednesday night in Cleveland.
With the game tied at halftime, 45-45, many Brooklyn Nets fans would be forgiven if they approached the start of the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night with a feeling of dread.
You know that feeling of waiting for the hammer to fall squarely down on the Nets as it so often has done in the third quarter of games already in 2018-19.
In the early going this season alone, the Brooklyn Nets had a close game get broken open by the Detroit Pistons with a big third quarter, with the Pistons opening up as large as a 13-point lead in the period after the game had been tied at the half.
Brooklyn rallied to close the gap and had a chance to take the lead in the final minute, but fell short.
In their home opener against the New York Knicks, the Nets led 57-50 at halftime … and trailed 76-74 entering the fourth quarter. Brooklyn rallied to get the win, with the third quarter providing no help in that effort whatsoever.
As coincidence would have it, their best third quarter of the season came in their most lopsided loss, as they entered the third against the Indiana Pacers at Indianapolis Saturday night down by nine and exited it down by 10.
We won’t discuss the fourth quarter of that game because, well, yeah. The trauma was real.
Through their first three games, Brooklyn had been outscored in the third quarter by a combined margin of 86-69.
Last season, it was the first quarter that was the problem for the Nets, as they had a minus-182 margin for the season in the first.
The third-quarter collapse happened on Wednesday, but this time it was the Cavaliers who crashed and burned.
Joe Harris scored the first five points of the quarter for the Nets, with his 3-pointer from above the break giving Brooklyn a 50-47 lead it would never relinquish.
Cleveland got it back to one about a minute later when Rodney Hood hit an elbow jumper (if my life depended on Rodney Hood making an elbow jumper, by the way, I’d like my chances).
Then came the explosion.
Russell made it three straight 3-point bombs on the next possession and Caris LeVert got into the fray with a layup off a drive to push the run to 10-0. Dudley found the range on a corner 3 and it was 13-0. A Harris layup off another nifty pass from Russell pushed the run to 15-0.
Sir Charles In Charge
The Cavs finally scored after a drought of more than three minutes when Kevin Love made a free throw after the Nets were called for a defensive three-second violation.
Dudley’s third 3-pointer of the period pushed the lead to 18 points and a fadeaway jumper from LeVert a bit later got the advantage to 20.
In 7½ minutes, Brooklyn had taken complete control of the game. The Cavaliers would never get closer than 16 points the rest of the way.
The final tally on the quarter was 38-17, as Shabazz Napier said “Hello, Brooklyn” in his delayed debut with the Nets by draining a long 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left in the period.
Was it a team effort? Well, when Jared Dudley is your top scorer during a run like that, you’d have to say that’s an emphatic “yes.” That’s no offense to Dudley, who hit all three shots he took en route to nine points in the third quarter.
Rather, it’s testimony to the trust this team is beginning to show in the open man. The third quarter offensive sets featured many extra passes, that one more movement of the ball to get the rock from a guy with a good shot to a teammate with a great one.
There was nothing forced, nothing rushed. The one turnover Brooklyn committed in the third quarter came when LeVert was whistled for an offensive foul.
It was fun to watch, because the Nets got after it at both ends. Cleveland couldn’t seem to make a shot, but it was because Brooklyn was not letting them get a lot of good looks.
And given the vagaries of early-season statistics, just like that the Nets are now playing at a plus-4 in the third quarter for the season.
More importantly, the Nets are starting to put together longer stretches of those sequences at the offensive end that can be breathtaking with the motion and ball movement.
The Brooklyn Nets are evolving into the next stage of the rebuild right in front of our eyes.