2:46 pm Feb. 21, 2013
Playing in Milwaukee, on the second of back-to-back nights, the Nets looked about as you'd expect: tired, settling for jumpers, with no real way of stopping Brandon Jennings from scoring or Eryan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders from controlling the boards. Brook Lopez shot 3-for-13; Joe Johnson, Tuesday night's hero, shot 3-for-14.
And yet, despite trailing by a dozen at halftime and 75-63 late in the third quarter, the Nets managed to rally and win, 97-94, behind a bench performance that should serve as a reminder to both rivals and to the Nets decision-makers themselves: the Nets are an extremely deep team.
Ultimately, the Nets' starters were outscored, 70-50, by the Bucks' starters. But the Nets' bench outscored its Milwaukee counterpart, 47-24.
Nor was this one of those stats where "bench" is a euphemism for "one bench guy scored a ton". C.J. Watson scored 17, Andray Blatche 12, Keith Bogans seven and MarShon Brooks six. All four, plus Kris Humphries, scored in the final quarter, when the Nets erased the Milwaukee lead and zoomed ahead to stay, and the Brooklyn bench outscored Milwaukee's bench, 21-2.
Some of the same concerns that emanated from Tuesday night's game were present Wednesday. Deron Williams, moving well enough to compete but not at all healthy, explained following the game that he'll be having cortisone shots in both ankles on Thursday, reminding everyone that despite possessing a perfectly capable backup in Watson, the Nets are still pushing an ailing Williams on the court, rather than giving him more time to heal.
And Brook Lopez, once again, didn't play in the fourth quarter. That Andray Blatche was out on the floor, scoring four points and grabbing five rebounds, is no excuse for Lopez's exclusion. The team's lone all star is their most efficient scorer, but gave way for Humphries in the fourth. Hopefully this is more about a single matchup coach P.J. Carlesimo sees, and not a trend, because the latter will ultimately harm the Nets late in games.
It was the late use of an out-of-gas Williams that almost cost the Nets this unlikely win. Up 94-83, the Nets kept the ball in Williams' hands. First he missed a 14-footer; the Bucks came back down and scored, Jennings finding Sanders. Then Williams traveled; Jennings, again guarded by Williams, found a wide-open Mike Dunleavy. Johnson missed a jumper; Jennings took it the length of the court, and suddenly the 94-83 game was 94-92.
This time, the Nets went to their strength on the night. Watson, perfectly capable of getting to the basket in ways Williams cannot right now, sliced through the defense, converted a layup, and put the Nets up by four with 15 seconds left.
Williams still almost blew it; missing one of two free throws gave the Bucks the ball down three, and then Williams inexplicably fouled a three-point shooter.
But Monta Ellis, that shooter, missed all three of his free throws.
The Nets, despite their high-priced stars, had themselves quite a road win.