Brooklyn Nets: Playoff struggles began with Ed Davis injury

The Brooklyn Nets scored a resounding win in Game 1 over the Philadelphia 76ers with backup center Ed Davis playing a big role. His injury changed things.

The sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets shocked the NBA community when they stole homecourt from the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Nets backup center Ed Davis was a major factor in this unexpected upset.

But Davis sprained his right ankle in the third quarter of Game 1 and has been limited or unavailable since and the Nets’ struggles in their Eastern Conference First Round series began with the Ed Davis injury.

The Nets were 7.5-point underdogs, but managed to defeat the 76ers 111-102 in Game 1.

The contributions of Ed Davis cannot be overlooked in that big win. He logged 25 minutes coming off the bench and finished the game with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 16 rebounds (three offensive). He even chipped in two assists and made both of his free throw attempts.

He had the highest efficiency rating of any Net in Game 1.

Ironically, many NBA fans don’t even know who Ed Davis is. He is not a superstar. He is not a scorer. He is not a good shooter. He doesn’t have a great post game. He’s not a good free throw shooter. He doesn’t even start for the Nets. So why is he so integral to the Nets success?

Three words describe his impact best: Intangibles, hustle and heart. These aspects of his game don’t always show up in box scores, but when they do, they show up in a big way; especially in the rebounding department.

As an NBA veteran he’s also a calming influence in the locker room as his teammates know he’s going to play tough every second he’s on the floor. He provides a spark off the bench that every team needs.

He does the dirty work most modern NBA players shy away from. He’s constantly fighting for position on the inside. He’s a relentless rebounder. He can play above the rim as a recipient of alley-oops. He plays within his skill set and he plays smart.

He’s a consummate role player and plays with a physicality no other Net is capable of. His style of play is contagious and the Nets are a much tougher team with Ed Davis on the floor. Despite not having high assist numbers, he is also a good passer.

Most importantly, he can turn a bad possession into a good one with his offensive rebounding ability. His knack for getting easy put-backs on second-chance opportunities is crucial to the Nets’ success as a team. He has a nose for the ball that can’t be taught.

Unfortunately for Davis and the Nets, he landed awkwardly on another player’s foot after getting a put-back in Game 1. He was able to finish the game after his ankle was re-taped, but after the game the injury worsened.

Davis valiantly tried to play through the pain in Game 2 but was only able to log five minutes before picking up three early fouls and re-injuring his ankle. He exited Game 3 and never returned and did not play in Game 4. This was a turning point in the series.

His status for Tuesday’s Game 5 has yet to be determined.

In Game 1. the undersized Nets were only out-rebounded by a margin of 50-45 and Davis was a big reason for this negligible differential.

Since the Davis injury, the Nets have struggled mightily on the boards and the rebounding differentials ballooned to an average of 13 per game in favor of the 76ers.

The 76ers crushed the Nets on the boards in Game 2 by a margin of 49-32. In Game 3 that margin was 54-43 in favor of Philadelphia. In Game 4 that margin was 55-42, again in favor of the 76ers.

It is no coincidence that the 76ers started to dominate the glass when Ed Davis became unavailable. While this is not the only reason the Nets have struggled in the series, it was certainly a major factor.

The loss of Davis also made the Nets’ bench, which has been a strength for them all season, less deep.

Without Davis, not only did the Nets give up more second-chance opportunities on the defensive end, they also lost second-chance opportunities on the offensive end.

This differential, if overcome in just one of the thee games played with Davis limited or out, could have resulted in this series being knotted up at 2-2 right now.

Instead, the Nets are in the position of having to win all three of the remaining  games, with two of them being played in Philadelphia.

Sadly, Game 3 might be the last time Davis appears in a Brooklyn uniform. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and it remains to be seen if he will be re-signed.

His salary for this season was roughly $4.5 million.

If the Nets can re-sign the 29-year-old Davis for anything close to that figure they should not hesitate to do so. The Nets need an enforcer like Davis.

His positive relationship with the Nets organization in conjunction with his lack of fanfare and recent injury, could keep him under the radar long enough for the Nets to resign him to a reasonable contract. Re-signing Davis should be a top priority for the Nets this offseason.