We are going everywhere tonight with this. We are going to look at the Pacers beating the Nets, which is cool all by itself, but we are also going to look at the team because the game tonight marked the 20th game of the season and traditionally that is where we evaluate where we are as a team.
First let’s start off on a down note. Obviously I was at the game and saw George Hill on the floor, in all honesty I didn’t see the injury take place because I was following the ball. I just looked up and saw George laying there as we proceeded to play 3 on 5 (Roy Hibbert had also fallen and was slow getting back). I saw him get up and walk off of the court with help, he was wincing in pain as he walked so I knew he really must have twisted it good. Saw he wasn’t returning in the second half which I kind of expected. Then on the way home Diamond Dave reads online that he has a fracture in his ankle. I immediately became nauseated. To say that this is a blow is an understatement. George has been such a huge part of what we are doing I can’t even begin to make an adequate statement to say why. Even when he hasn’t been scoring he has been defending at a high level, but more games than not he has been scoring. Injuries are part of the game and we have to feel lucky that we haven’t had more up until this point. I have no idea when he will return but let’s all hope very a very speedy recovery for George both for his sake and ours.
Lance & A.J. it’s time to step up.
Ok enough melancholy, let’s get the party started.
20 games in and we are 14-6. That’s 14 wins and 6 losses btw. I don’t even know where to start here because in my wildest dreams I never thought we’d be this good. I mean I thought we would improve sure, but to this level? No way. I doubt seriously that there that very many people thought we’d be here now either.
I’m going to go ahead and say it now, I will probably jinx us with my luck but here goes anyway.
This is a special team.
How special? Time will tell but the similarities between this team and the 94 team are actually uncanny and frankly at this point in time this team may be better if not more talented.
Does that mean I think were going to the E.C. finals? Not necessarily, but I’m not putting it out of the realm of possibility either.
We are just very unique in that we really only have two absolute constants on the offensive end. Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert are usually two of the top scorers on our team every game, but even they haven’t lead the team in scoring every game.
It’s not even that it’s different players doing it each night, it’s that we come at you with a different offensive attack almost every night. Think about it, early in the season a lot of our offense was being generated by our power forwards as David West and Tyler Hansbrough would put up big numbers and always be heavily involved in our offense. Then on other nights our guards would start scoring and George Hill would be an absolute terror on the offensive end.
In other words we are very hard to defend because if you double Roy he can kick it to Danny or Derrick. You can’t double Danny cause he can just feed David or Tyler in the post or Paul in the corner. You can’t double Derrick cause that leaves any number of other players open who can burn you when we are hitting, which we are now starting to do more frequently.
But while our team has a ton of offensive options we earn our living by playing down and dirty in the trench defense. Everybody who steps foot on the floor for us is required to play defense and at a high level or you don’t see the floor. Coach Frank Vogel deserves credit for that. The fact that the players are playing defense at such a high level and have bought into it is a credit to them.
We have an anchor in the middle with Roy Hibbert who is a great shot blocker but more importantly is a great positional defender. He very rarely fouls and it’s not because he is not involved in the defense. He is, he’s always there. He’s just that good and another thing that he deserves credit for is that when he was younger and got called for what we like to call rookie fouls he never cried or whined to the refs or got mad. He just played on and would ask questions to the refs. During timeout to see what he did wrong and many times I’d see the refs. Showing him what he did. He did two things here, first he was learning. Second and IMO more importantly he was earning the respect of the referee’s. Roy get’s called for very few questionable calls and often gets the benefit of the doubt. Again most of that is just good play from Roy but some of it, I believe, is that the referee’s respect him as a player and his game.
But as important as Roy is to the defense he hasn’t been our best individual defender. That honor goes to the Captain, Danny Granger. Talk about taking your game and doing a 180 with it. Has he had some down nights? Sure, but far more nights he has not only been on, he’s been outstanding.
Are there improvements that could be made to the team? Obviously we are not 20-0 so you could make an argument that we could still make trades. But I am definitely of the mindset that our team has such a high team chemistry right now that I would only want to add to it and not take anything away. Hill’s injury may force the team to make a move if he is going to be out for a long time, but if we do get someone in here they better be able and willing to defend at a high level. We don’t want or need just shooters or scorers, that’s not how we are going to win. They have to be willing to play both sides of the floor and do so enthusiastically.
For the season our bench has just been huge. They had a period of time over the past couple of weeks where they struggled at one time or other but to the surprise of many of you the one bench player who has emerged as a rock of steadiness is none other than Dahntay Jones. For the better part of a month he has been absolutely in control of himself on the offensive end of the floor and still gives you steady if unspectacular defense on the other end.
But he’s not alone. Tyler, George, Lance, Jeff Foster and even Lou have all contributed in one way or another on almost an every game basis. In fact I think it’s safe to say that our bench for the most part has been outstanding and a real reason why we are one of the best teams in the NBA.
I might do another post just dedicated to the first 20 games but for now and for the sake of time I’m just going to move on to tonight’s game.
I’ll be honest with you, this game worried me. First home game in awhile, first team that wasn’t a playoff contender or big name team in awhile all had the markings of one of those games where we would exhale and let one slip past us. Matchup wise I knew we had some of the matchups but honestly I knew that Darren Collison could not keep up with Williams. Not that it’s his fault but Williams is just stronger, taller and almost as fast. Then to be honest with you I was very worried about Kris Humphries. He is big, athletic and strong. I just felt that David West would not be able to keep up with him and he would just out jump Tyler. He got his average but for the most part our power forwards at least held their own.
To make matters worse the Nets started out in a 2-3 zone, which we are seeing more and more of this year, and hit their first few shots while causing us to turn the ball over early and often.
Then Frank Vogel takes a time out, readjusts the offense, and boom just like that we are back in it and the Nets have now dropped back into man to man coverage.
It didn’t hurt that Paul George was hitting every three he threw up to begin the game, which on a side note the first three he dropped on them I swear the ball had no spin on it at all. It was as though he just shot putted the thing up there as I could not see the lines in the ball move at all. Could be an optical illusion but man that is what it looked like from where I was sitting.
Now as I type this up I am hearing NBA TV in the background talk about the game and then talk about the Pacers. Thanks to Paul’s dunk (we’ll cover that later) it is a highlight but the great thing about it is that they are using it as a jumping off point to talk about the team. They are finally saying a lot of good things about our team right now. In fact Chris Webber said nobody wants to face a Frank Vogel team and nobody wants to face the Pacers in the playoffs. Steve Smith is calling Frank “coach of the year”.
It’s nice for the national media to finally take notice of our team. Now if we could just get the local fans to take notice that would be something to as tonight’s turnout was as I expected, dismal.
I can’t break down the game tonight in good bad or ugly and I can’t be confined to grades. So we are just going to go player by player and do this long form.
Danny Granger: With Danny I’ll just start out with what Chris Webber of NBA TV said when they showed the highlight of Danny jumping into the crowd and saving the ball at the end of the game. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here) That’s what you get when you are 14-6, your best player is sacrificing his body like that and hustling like that you win games.
Nothing could be truer. While certainly Paul had the highlight of the night and provided a great offensive presence and Roy had big blocks and killer stats there was no play bigger all night long than Danny not only flying out of bounds to get that ball but he actually saved it to Roy and we ended up shooting free throws to seal the game. Remember the game was on the line there, I think they were only down by 3 points at that point in time. So this wasn’t just some random hustle play, this was a hustle play that for all intents and purposes saved the game.
He’s starting to pick up his game at all levels which should really start to concern other teams because we are at our record now with Danny on occasion providing some good offense with outstanding defense in all but a couple of games. But now he is providing outstanding defense and his shot is starting to fall and he has gotten 20 points in the last four games. I asked early in the season and I’ll ask again, how good will this club be when Danny really gets going.
Paul George: Yes we’ve all seen the highlights and God bless him for having the decency to run down the court and give us something with flash as that got us a lot of attention on NBA TV and of course all of the national media that was in town tonight for the big game that came to see this. Not to mention the members of the Giants that were in attendance got up and danced when he did that, you’d have thought that he was a member of the Knicks or something by the way they were acting.
But while that dunk was boss, and his three point shooting was other worldly, it was his defense that we all need to focus on. Paul got switched off of Morrow in the second half and got put on Williams. Believe me he didn’t stop him, but he sure slowed him down and at the end of the game he was driving with a chance to bring the Nets within one (I think) and Paul poked the ball away giving us the ball. This was huge.
Like I keep saying, he kills me because while I know he is not going to hit the three at this high of % he can be this aggressive on offense every single game. Nobody will be offended. Danny has already shown that he is more than willing to give up stats for wins.
When you get this kind of production on both offense and defense from your starting wing players, most night’s good things will happen for you.
Roy Hibbert: We’ll see you in Orlando big fella. What else is there to say that we haven’t been saying all year? He is just out of his mind good right now. With Dwight Howard’s current mind set I am not sure that right now Roy isn’t the best center in the east. No, don’t go crazy I’m not saying he is better than Howard, I’m saying until Howard can either come to grips with his situation or get out of there he may be putting up numbers but he isn’t playing a part in team basketball. Right now Roy is all about winning and he is putting up big numbers with it. On a side note I saw Brook Lopez walk out and sit behind the bench for the Nets and all I could think to myself was “scrub”.
David West: Ok I’m going to start off with a complaint. Old man river here cause Roy Hibbert to not only draw a foul but get posterized by Williams. He couldn’t be bothered to rotate laterally by 3 feet to help defend the driver after his man was trapped by a pick. Watching it on replay was even worse than seeing it in person because you can see that he actually does not respond at all. Other than that he did a pretty good job on Humphries and did not get burned like I thought he would. Really though that poor defensive stand and his 5 turnovers did kind of make it like a sub par game for him. He didn’t go at the Nets offensively like I thought he would in the 4th but then again we were getting points from other spots. Just an ok game and really not up to where he normally is at, but I’ll give him a break because I thought that he would suffer trying to guard Humphries anyway.
Darren Collison: Just wasn’t his night. That’s not a sin btw for those of you that would like to run him out of town on a rail. He just doesn’t match up well with the Nets starters because he is just too small. In fact I was stunned when Avery Johnson brought in Jordan Farmar at the end of the game because this allowed Danny to guard Morrow and he shut him down. Got in foul trouble, couldn’t keep up with Williams and was to short for Morrow. That tells you a lot about this team though, our starting power forward and point guard both had sub par games yet we still won.
George Hill: Did I mention that I got sick when I found out he had a fracture? He wasn’t hitting from the field yet but he was defending very well and made some very nice passes. He did do a decent job of staying with Williams but this was just one of those nights that he was hitting his shots from the floor. All you could do was try and make it tough on him and George did that.
Tyler Hansbrough: I about had a heart attack when Tyler slipped on that wet spot on the floor. I thought at first he bounced his head off of the hardwood; I was greatly relieved when he bounced up and never looked back. Tyler was very aggressive on the offensive end tonight and did a very good job of drawing fouls. He also stole the ball three times which was huge as well. He had some trouble with Humphries because he just doesn’t have the standing jumping ability that he has but it’s not like Kris tore him up either. In fact to be honest with you I was a little surprised that Tyler didn’t play more than what he did. I actually thought he was more productive than West tonight. But who am I to question Vogel, he knows what he is doing.
Lou Amundson was an 8 min. 45 second tornado that hit the Nets. When he pulled up and hit that jumper from the side when he first came in all I could think was that Avery Johnson probably was thinking they were doomed. He is not a gifted offensive player but he is a hard worker and he does not back down from anybody. He and Lance obviously play a lot together in shoot around or something because they seem to know where each one will be at all times on the floor. 9 points 4 rebound (2 offensive 2 defensive) 2 steals and a block in less than 9 min on the floor? Yeah I think I’ll take that.
Lance Stephenson: Let me tell you a small story and this is really a story about how good Frank Vogel is and not so much about Lance. First time Lance is taken out of the game he was not happy about it, he wasn’t mad but he hung his head and you could see him moping to the bench. Now in Lance’s defense he hadn’t been in very long at all, if it was more than 2 min. at that point it wasn’t by much and he had done nothing wrong. I’m sure he thought that he was done for the night. Frank saw this and walked with Lance off of the floor and took him to the end of the bench and talked with him right there and right then. There was no yelling, Frank was pointing out to something on the floor and Lance was shaking his head in agreement. When Frank walked away Lances entire demeanor had changed from a puppy dog that got caught tearing up the pillow to a smile on his face and his head was bobbing back and forth on the bench. Whatever Frank said to him, it seemed to cheer him up. He then rewarded us with the best point guard play of the night when he returned.
Yes, I said he played the best point guard play of the night for either team. What? How can I say such nonsense when Daron Williams was just lighting it up. Well simple, he was not playing like a point guard this game. He needed to score for them and he did, he however did not facilitate much offense even if he did get 7 assists.
Also I want to say now that had anybody other than Lance been playing and had that ball at that time, the Paul George dunk would probably not have happened. Darren would never have looked up to see it and even if he did I’m not sure he could have seen it. But even better was the fact that Lance was part of a two man team (Lou being the other) that stopped that drive and stole that ball from Williams for to even make that play possible.
Now here is another brash statement I’m going to make. Lance Stephenson has been born again hard in terms of defense. I mentioned it during the Orlando game but I want to make sure everybody knows it tonight. Lance Stephenson’s defensive progress as this year has gone on may be the single biggest defensive turn around in a player I’ve ever seen. Last season not only was he a bad defender he was a disinterested one as well. This season obviously Frank has made it clear to everyone that if you want to play you had better defend. To Lance’s credit (a phrase I think we are going to be saying more and more) he has taken that to heart and had two games now where he has been an absolutely solid defender, better than Collison in this one.
Also while I’m throwing out some hyperbole let me ask this, was I the only one who saw that pass from Lance to Paul on that dunk and thought to myself that this was the dynamic back court of the future?
Dahntay Jones: 50% from the floor 2 assists 0 turnovers. Other than being a double figure scorer every night while pulling down double figure boards I don’t know what more you would want out of your backup 3.
I’m saying this after 20 games, not just the Nets game here.
WE ARE REAL, this is not a fluke. We are not sneaking up on anybody anymore. You can tell teams have scouted us and are trying different things to stop us. But our commitment to defense has helped us overcome almost every one of these obstacles and we are winning 70% of our games. I don’t know if we will keep up that pace the rest of the season, but I’m not saying we can’t either.
I got a surprise visitor at my seat tonight, as I’m sitting there enjoying the game in the second half up come Vnzla81. We shake hands and of course the first thing I have to tell him is that Danny Granger is having a heck of a game, he has no choice but to agree with me even though you could see the pain on his face as he did so. However it was not a lost night for him as he got to tell me that we needed a better point guard and for tonight’s game I was hard pressed to argue.
P.S. Since this was an ABA throwback day and both the pacers and the Nets won titles I thought it would be appropriate to show them something they didn't get. 3 ABA titles.