Brooklyn Nets vs. Miami Heat: Postgame Grades and Analysis
Instead, they were put back in their place, ending a five-game winning streak that ultimately proved to be no match against the perfect 8-0 record of their opponent at home, losing 102-89.
In a game that, at one point, seemed headed toward a blowout, Brooklyn came out of the gate strong, shooting 60 percent from the field thanks to its deft ball movement.
Yet that reality, and an 11-rebound advantage for the Nets by halftime, was largely overshadowed by the striking absence of LeBron James and Chris Bosh for much of the first half. Side note: James and Bosh combined for exactly one point after the first quarter.
Nevertheless, in one game-changing sequence in the second quarter, James capitalized on a three-point play that not only appeared to awaken the league MVP, but also provided the Heat with a momentum boost they would carry for the remainder of the game.
Fueled by the offensive consistency of Wade, who chimed in with 13 points in the decisive third quarter, and the resurgence of James, the Heat headed into the final period with a four-point lead on the heels of a 17-6 run.
From that point on, the energy of the Heat and the arena only rose to new heights, as the smell of blood was more than enough to will Miami to victory.
And whereas the Heat have typically relied on Ray Allen to address their moments of adversity, Saturday night proved to be a collective team response to that matter.
All in all, it could be argued that this was the most inspiring Heat victory of the season.
One that a team with the best record in the Eastern Conference can build on.
Deron Williams, Nets PG: B
Depending on how you feel about Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams is arguably the best point guard in a sans-Derrick Rose Eastern Conference. Therefore, regardless of the negative publicity Miami continues to get for its lack of size—and justifiably so—Brooklyn's prospects for winning Saturday night would ultimately come down to how much it could exploit its advantage at point guard.
Providing a steady mixture of points and ball distribution to keep the Nets' offense fluid and on the attack throughout the night, Brooklyn's floor leader left an unmistakable imprint on Saturday night's game.
Finishing off with 10 points and 12 assists, Williams redeemed himself after a horrid performance in his team's earlier matchup against Miami on Nov. 7, when he was held to 14 points, three assists and seven turnovers.
But it still wasn't enough.
Invariably, his numbers reaffirm the notion that if the Nets hope to leapfrog the Celtics as the Heat's top competition in the East, he will need to be the biggest reason why.
Mario Chalmers, Heat PG: C-
Chalmers' night hit a sour note early on, missing his first two shots (one of them a layup) and making ill-advised passes that led to an abrupt 15-7 first-quarter deficit for Miami.
He was then benched in favor of Norris Cole, whose uptempo approach and energy was sorely needed.
More importantly, Cole served his most important role with the Heat: outplaying Chalmers to such an embarrassing degree that it would prove to be a wake-up call.
The bigger picture of note here is that the relationship between Chalmers and the Heat will come to a head this summer, when the team will decide whether to exercise its team option on the point guard.
And given that Miami can expect to see a number of elite point guards in its quest to repeat as champions, Chalmer's future with the team will likely hinge on how well he can mitigate their impact.
Saturday night, Miami survived.
But that was more clearly due to Cole than Chalmers.
Joe Johnson, Nets SG: D+
Coming off an efficient 22-point effort against the Orlando Magic Friday night, early foul trouble took Johnson out of the game for most of the first half. He did manage to find moments where he made an impact. But overall, he was a glorified afterthought, much like he's been through most of his beleaguered career.
Dwyane Wade, Heat SG: A
Whether you're in a fantasy league or have watched a fair share of televised Heat games this season, it's become impossible to deny that Dwyane Wade hasn't looked like the second-best player on the Heat for quite a while.
Maybe it has something to do with his health, the switch to small ball or his declaration last year that the Heat are now LeBron's team.
His performance Saturday night, however, provided the glimmer of hope Heat fans have been waiting for.
Wade was the sole source of steady offense for the Heat in the first half, closing with 15 points to keep Miami in the game at halftime.
Then, he took it to another gear, scoring 13 points in a third quarter that would completely change the complexion of the game in Miami's favor.
He finished off with 34 points, offering yet another lesson to those short-sighted critics that continue to insist we should stick a fork in the undersized superstar.
Gerald Wallace, Nets SF: C-
Wallace was instrumental in helping the Nets build an early run against the Heat. Then, when Miami finally came back, the versatile forward seemed relegated to his role as a bystander.
His absence, among other things, was certainly felt, as the reeling Nets seemed resigned to their fate.
Perhaps an early lesson on why slow and steady usually wins the race.
LeBron James, Heat SF: B+
Typically, grading LeBron James on a basketball court is the equivalent of going out on a first date with your future spouse; there are so many good things to like that you almost feel obliged to nitpick.
Saturday night was the exception.
LeBron was a virtual non-factor in the first half, held without a field goal until 5:32 to go in the second quarter.
That is, until a momentum-shifting sequence in the second quarter in which LeBron missed a series of layups before capitalizing on a three-point play that seemed to visibly awaken both the league MVP and the AmericanAirlines crowd.
From that point forward, a symbiotic phenomena between the crowd and LeBron transpired before our very eyes, revitalizing King James' activity level in the third and fourth period while the energy of the Heat faithful emerged as a sixth man of sorts.
All in all, it was a sight to behold and a fond footnote on how James continues to handle adversity better than ever before.
Kris Humphries, Nets PF: C-
Humphries looked like a kid in a candy store for much of the game, feasting on the Heat's lack of size on one end of the floor, while hitting timely open shots thanks to his team's impressive ball movement.
But as the Heat began running away with the game, literally, the offensively limited big man was quickly left in the dust.
Then again, isn't Humphries used to having his fame last no longer than 15 minutes?
Rashard Lewis, Heat PF: D
Asked to pinch-hit for the sidelined Shane Battier, Lewis' performance put to rest speculation regarding whether he should replace Battier in the starting lineup permanently.
Proving to be too slow-footed to keep up with the pace and space offense of the Heat on more than a part-time basis, Lewis was kept on the bench when Miami finally swung the momentum of the game.
A place he will probably grow accustomed to for the remainder of the season.
Andray Blatche, Nets Center: B-
Filling in for Nets leading scorer Brook Lopez, Blatche got off to a strong early start against the undersized Heat with six points and four rebounds. More importantly, his defense and size stymied Chris Bosh.
But like Humphries, he was helpless to keep up with the Heat once they got their offense, and feet, running.
Still, the Heat may regret passing up on this big man, who was available to them during free agency.
Chris Bosh, Heat Center: D-
Bosh had his worst game of the season, finishing off with eight points and two rebounds. Thankfully, Miami survived without him.
And considering what a beacon of light he has been to the Heat for the majority of this season thus far, we can forgive him for one bad night.
Especially since the Heat won.
Nets Sixth Man: Jerry Stackhouse: C
The elder veteran gave the Nets steady contribution and a dose of energy and toughness in the first half. But uneven shooting and Miami's strong offensive turnaround led the Nets into panic, demoralization and, ultimately, defeat.
Perhaps Stackhouse could have provided a more meaningful contribution with some much-needed leadership.
Heat Sixth Man: Norris Cole: Grade A+
Uprooting a spot normally reserved for Ray Allen, Cole's energy and uptempo pace was the shot of life Miami desperately needed in the first half.
Replacing the lackluster Chalmers, Cole shined brightest on a night that featured many unsung heroes.
Finishing with 12 points, Cole assured himself of one thing based on his performance Saturday night: more playing time to come in the future.
Nets Bench: D-
If the Nets seemed too worn out to keep up with the Heat, it's probably because the bench could not provide its starters with the kind of rest they probably needed.
Beyond the contributions of Stackhouse and C.J. Watson, the bench afforded the Nets almost nothing, something they may need to address if they hope to make a spark in the East.
Heat Bench: B
To give you an idea of what Miami is working with, the team's bench ranked 28th in the league in scoring last year. And in spite of the fact that Ray Allen is building a strong, early campaign for Sixth Man of the Year, the bench is still one of Miami's dramatic weak points, ranked 22nd currently.
Nevertheless, everyone did their part Saturday night. Haslem chimed in with seven rebounds, Joel Anthony provided a little bit of size and needed defense in the middle, Norris Cole was incredible and Ray was Ray.
Ultimately, the Heat bench did exactly what has been asked of it all season—to fill a specific role.