With 9.6 seconds left and trailing by five against the undefeated Indiana Pacers, the Brooklyn Nets needed a quick bucket in order to stay alive in a hotly contested game that felt more like Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals than game six of the 2013-14 regular season. Kevin Garnett received an inbounds pass towards the top of the key and looked for Paul Pierce careening off a screen. It was a play designed to get Pierce an open 3-point look. A play Garnett and Pierce have probably run in late game situations plenty of times. But Garnett threw the pass one way and Pierce broke off the screen the other. The ball bounced weakly off the scorer’s table with just 6.5 seconds left and the Indiana Pacers were on their way to a tough road victory.
Two guys who have played together for the better part of five seasons and won a championship as teammates could not get on the same page. Yes, it’s the same faces. But it’s a new city. A new coach. Basically, a new franchise. It’s a new supporting cast and a new hierarchy in terms of personnel. Pierce and Garnett have reached a new stage in their decorated careers and their inability to play fluidly off of each other is just one of many problems that the Brooklyn Nets are dealing with as a team that’s now stumbled to a 2-4 start.
It starts with Jason Kidd. Growing pains were to be expected from a rookie head coach dealing with a roster featuring five All-Stars in its starting lineup. For Kidd, distributing minutes and setting rotations has been a major challenge. Finding time to keep Kevin Garnett spry is all well and good, but the “The Big Ticket” has looked out of rhythm so far in his short tenure as a Net, shooting well under 40 percent from the floor in less than 30 minutes per game. Getting Garnett engaged and playing at a high level needs to be priority number one. They’ll be plenty of time for rest later on.
It isn’t just Garnett. We saw Jason Terry pull up for an awkward, in between jumper on one of the most nauseating 3-on-2 fast breaks you’ll ever see. Deron Williams, a guy who Brooklyn fans are growing increasingly impatient with, continues to differ to everyone else and play extremely passively. When he does decide to push the issue, he’s made costly mistakes, including a brutal foul on a 3-point attempt from George Hill late in the fourth quarter and a costly, self-induced turnover with less than a minute to play in the same game.
Last year’s Nets struggled early as well, starting 14-14 before showing then head coach Avery Johnson the door and taking off in the right direction. It isn’t as though Brooklyn isn’t playing hard and the frustration of losing is clearly effecting these guys.
“Obviously it’s a process,” Garnett said after a loss in Washington which saw the Nets blow an 11-point lead late. “It’s not an easy process trying to figure it out. (Some) nights it looks great. Some nights it looks like tonight: pure crap.”
“Process” has been a buzz word surrounding this organization since the Boston trade that shook the NBA this past offseason. And it may be a long one, but that doesn’t make blown leads against inferior competition and poor execution late in games any more acceptable than it should be. These Nets should be winning games based on sheer talent alone and that hasn’t happened yet.
The good news? There’s a long way to go. The Brooklyn Nets still have 76 games to play. But if Indiana stays hot and the Miami Heat turn it on, there’s a good chance the Nets could be playing catch-up as they try to secure one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference. Yes, it’s pretty clear this is a roster built for June, not November. But you’ve gotta get to June first.