On a night when the Brooklyn Nets' quartet of stars struggled mightily, the Miami Heat were able to run away in the fourth quarter, emerging with a 94-82 victory that pushed them to a 2-0 lead in the second-round playoff series.
And the Nets just didn't stand a chance.
A valiant effort from the backups and lesser names on the roster did keep things close until a second-half surge by the two-time defending champions; it just wasn't enough. On Thursday night, it actually seemed as though Mirza Teletovic, Shaun Livingston, Marcus Thornton and Alan Anderson might have been the Big Four for Brooklyn, not the names you typically hear.
As you might have guessed by now, Brooklyn is going to need a lot more from its actual stars.
Though the past is the past, the Nets will quickly find themselves watching from the comfort of their own couches if the stars don't start stepping up in a big way.
Johnson, Pierce, Garnett and Williams combined for 30 points, 27 rebounds, 14 assists and seven turnovers while shooting 13-of-42 from the field. That means the average standout on the Brooklyn roster put up 7.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 turnovers with a field-goal percentage just barely north of 30 percent.
Ouch. And that's saying nothing of the surprise received by Andrei Kirilenko, as he did not play.
That isn't going to get it done against competition significantly less stiff than the Heat, much less against the team that's quickly becoming more and more of a favorite in the hunt for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
The Really Ugly
D-Will looked absolutely awful throughout Game 2.
His final line was an eyesore even among a backdrop of ugly performances—zero points, seven rebounds and six assists on 0-of-9 shooting from the field.
To put that in perspective, Williams had never gone scoreless while playing at least 15 minutes. Not even once, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Hell, if you take away the time criterion, he's only gone scoreless twice in his entire career, playoffs and regular season included.
Once was in 2005, when he went 0-of-1 against the Atlanta Hawks in his 13 minutes on the floor. The only other time was just under two months later, as D-Will went 0-of-1 once more, this time in nine minutes against the San Antonio Spurs.
Both games came during his rookie season, and they were in far less critical situations than this one.
D-Will is often the engine that makes Brooklyn go. When he's on his game, the Nets have a whole new offensive dynamic, and defenses are compromised to focus on stopping his inside-outside game, one that involves him knocking down triples and devastating perimeter defenders with his brutalizing crossover.
As Tim Bontemps made clear for the New York Post, Williams just lost confidence halfway through the game:
"Williams appeared to pass up a couple of open-shot opportunities from the perimeter in the fourth quarter, and when he did try to be aggressive, it resulted in wild drives to the rim that produced nothing."
And the point guard—one who no longer belongs in the All-Star conversation, despite his occasional offensive explosion—wasn't the only player to fall under the ignominious "really ugly" subheading.
K.G. does as well, though it's not like the Nets can expect much from him anymore.
The big man did make quite an impact on the glass, but he wore down toward the end of the game and was unable to make any sort of positive contribution on the offensive end. The Nets need more than four points on 2-of-8 shooting from him, or else even more minutes have to be handed to Andray Blatche (at the expense of defense) or Mason Plumlee (at the expense of experience).
Brooklyn made every effort to get him involved, but it was quite clear that he just didn't have "it."
Of course, he didn't have "it" during Game 1, either, going scoreless for the first time in his postseason career. Seeing a future Hall of Famer decline like this has to be a bit depressing, regardless of which team you support.
Pierce wasn't horribly inefficient during Game 2, finishing with 13 points on 11 shots. But he never stepped up his game during moments that meant the most, failing to do what we've come to expect throughout his professional career.
The fourth quarter was particularly strange, as he spent an inexplicably long stretch on the bench before entering with 5:07 left on the clock. During that time, the Nets had basically pushed the game out of reach, going from a two-point deficit at the start of the quarter to an eight-point hole when he entered the game.
Is that on Jason Kidd? Maybe, especially seeing as how he gave that completely unexpected DNP to AK-47 in the same game. But it could also be due to Father Time and the wear and tear that evil entity has bestowed upon the 36-year-olds ankles.
After Pierce turned his ankle early in the proceedings, he just wasn't quite the same. During a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter, he even allowed Ray Allen to grab an offensive rebound over him, extending a possession that wouldn't end until the Heat had racked up three second-chance opportunities, finally concluding with a LeBron James layup.
As Stefan Bondy wrote for the New York Daily News after Game 1, "The Truth" was pretty bummed about his series-opening performance:
Garnett didn’t talk to the media on Wednesday. He walked away. Paul Pierce did the same thing, the day after he scored just eight points and was benched, along with two other starters, for the entire fourth quarter. Pierce took off his Boston Red Sox hat before practice Wednesday and left the media scrum hanging.
It's hard to imagine him feeling much better after Game 2.
You may have noticed that Johnson wasn't featured in either of the previous two sections.
All things considered, the former Atlanta Hawk wasn't awful. He finished with 13 points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block and no turnovers while shooting 6-of-14 from the field.
The only problem was a distinct lack of aggressiveness.
One would think that Johnson would become more assertive during a game in which his teammates were struggling to put up points. One would expect "Iso Joe" to become a phrase that left Kidd's mouth quite often.
And one would be wrong.
During the fourth quarter, Johnson managed to take four shots from the field, and he knocked down only one of them. But he did nothing else, recording zero rebounds and zero assists despite spending every possible second on the court.
The beauty of this team was always supposed to be the breadth of talent in the starting lineup. When one star struggled—or two or three stars struggled, for that matter—there was going to be someone capable of filling the void.
But what happens when three stars struggle and one is incapable of taking over the game?
Game 2 is what happens, and it results in a loss that didn't exactly test the Heat down the stretch. But as bad as this was for Brooklyn, imagine how much worse it could've been.
Think about the final score if Teletovic doesn't finish with 20 points, 15 of which came on a quintet of first-half triples. The Teletoscope had only gotten to 20 five times in his two-year career prior to this game, so it's not like Brooklyn can count on him catching fire each and every time out.
Ponder what happens if Thornton doesn't chip in with a 10-spot, making it the third straight postseason game in which he'd hit double figures.
Despite Johnson's bold words, things don't look so rosy.
At this point, it appears as though the Nets are going to have an awfully difficult time bouncing back from a 2-0 deficit, 4-0 record in the regular season be damned.
But if the Brooklyn stars are incapable of rebounding and turning in respectable performances, they might as well go home early. And I don't just mean taking an early flight back to the Barclays Center, where Game 3 will be played and the Nets will desperately fight to avoid falling into the dreaded 3-0 hole.
We saw the first scoreless game of Garnett's playoff career in the opening contest. Then, D-Will followed it up with his first postseason goose egg two nights later.
If that's a trend, the Nets can forget about even making this a competitive series. Unfortunately for them, the Heat will be doing everything in their power to ensure that it is.
Pierce, the pressure is on. Johnson, the pressure is on. Garnett, the pressure is on. Williams, the pressure is on.
It's time for Brooklyn to justify its exorbitant payroll.
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