Nets win third straight behind improving defensive effort
A week ago, the Nets were not talking.
It’s not that they were not getting along but somewhere over the course of dropping 14 of their first 19 games, there was some kind of communication breakdown defensively.
Opponents were driving to the lane with ease, hitting 3-pointers without breaking a sweat and blowing the Nets out of the building right after halftime.
Three games is a small sample size, but after Thursday’s 102-93 victory over the Clippers, the theme of how the Nets have won three straight games centered all around talking on the defensive side.
“Talking,” Alan Anderson said of the biggest difference. “Some games we have the coaches just talking on the side to players but coaches don’t play the game, players do. So we just got to talk to each other more. Even though you’re still making mistakes, we’re talking to each other, telling each other what each other sees, what we feel. Talking is just so much more different than it was in the last week.”
The Nets limited the Clippers to 37.1 percent from the field, representing their best defense in terms of opponents’ field goal percentage this season. It also marked the second time all year they held an opposing team under 40 percent and the eighth time they kept the opponent under the century mark.
“I’d say the defensive side of the ball,” head coach Jason Kidd said of what the difference in his team is. “Guys are executing the game plan, they’re trusting one another and I think they’re finishing with a rebound. That was something that we struggled with the beginning of the season — finishing plays.”
“The schemes changed from what it used to be at the start of the season,” Kevin Garnett said. “We’re talking a lot. Our biggest problem was communication and Jason has us just talking and communicating.”
The Nets also limited the Clippers to 26.3 percent from 3-point range. The Clippers made their first three 3-pointers but wound up 6-of-19 and the Nets kept Blake Griffin from being much of a factor, limiting him to 12 points and keeping him away from the rim on pick-and-roll plays.
“When we’re not talking, we lose,” Anderson said. “When we do talk, we got a better chance to win.”
As a result, the Nets are producing on offense, aided by Deron Williams returning from an ankle injury and Paul Pierce coming back from a broken hand. The Nets wound up over 100 points in consecutive games for the first time all season and shot over 45 percent for the third straight game following last week’s 39.7-percent showing against the Knicks.
It wasn’t a perfect start since they fell behind 23-10 and were shooting 4-of-16 but they reversed course drastically on both ends. The Nets outscored the Clippers 46-21 over the rest of the half and 92-70 over the final 39-plus minutes.
It was the second reunion for Garnett and Pierce in three days as they faced former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers and at various points, the Nets looked as cohesive as some of those teams in Boston.
Joe Johnson, who made statements last week about the Nets having no chemistry, led the Nets with 21 points. Williams added 15 points and four assists.
Brook Lopez had 16 points though he left the game with a sprained left ankle, the second time he has injured his ankle this season. The last one cost him seven games and though Lopez was upbeat afterward, the team was uncertain about his availability Friday in Detroit.
Andray Blatche added 21 points while Pierce chipped in 10 points anchoring the second unit for the second time in as many games after missing four games.
The Nets didn’t let up in the third but were even better than on Tuesday. They never let the Clippers threaten and by the end of the quarter, Garnett was standing and cheering along with the crowd. Brooklyn held the Clippers to 3-of-16 from the floor and took an 83-62 edge into the final 12 minutes.
By the time the fourth quarter approached its midway point, Williams, Johnson and Garnett were sitting on the bench talking about what had unfolded, a far cry from this time a week ago when “no chemistry and no communication” described the team.
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.