If you can’t defend, you can’t win.
It has been 11 days since the Nets played a game on their home court. With their west coast road trip not exactly going as they’d hoped, Brooklyn could sure use some home cooking right about now.
However, the struggles on defense for the Nets have become a glaring issue and it continued to plague them in their first game back in front of their home crowd.
C.J. McCollum scored a game-high 33 points to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 129-109 win over the Nets Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center.
McCollum was 6 of 10 from behind the three-point line and Damian Lillard added 18 points for Portland.
The Nets were led by Brook Lopez, the big man finished with 21 points. Trevor Booker chipped in with 16 points.
The loss for Brooklyn was their fourth straight loss.
If the Nets’ recent road trip was where their defense went AWOL they clearly need a bigger search party to help find it.
Nets first-year head coach Kenny Atkinson has a major dilemma on his hands. His young team, already sorely missing Jeremy Lin on offense, has now lost its way on defense.
“Slippage” is the word Atkinson has referenced lately when describing his team’s defensive struggles. For a fourth consecutive game, the Nets were victimized by the backcourt of their opponents.
When Lillard and McCollum weren’t penetrating and knocking down outside shots, Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner were coming off the bench and doing the same. The Nets had no answer for Portland’s guard play, they’ve had no answers lately for any team’s opposing guards.
Lillard and McCollum combined for 15 of Portland’s first 19 points to set the tone for their offense. The Nets, much to their credit, managed to stay within striking distance for much of the first half thanks to their offense and only trailed Portland by six at halftime.
It was the dreaded third quarter, however, which once again did the Nets in. Their offense, which covered for them in the first half, stalled after the break. McCollum scored 12 of his 33 points while the Nets managed to shoot only 27.3 percent from the field.
Portland shot 41.7 percent from the three-point line, including 5 of 10 in the third quarter.
“I thought before this game we were doing a decent job defending the 3-point shot, but that wasn’t the case tonight,” Atkinson said afterwards. ” We’re plugging hoes right now defensively, leaking in different places, so we’re gonna have to regroup – you know, get some practice time, get some film time, get our principles back.”
It’s games, like this one, where some coaches may want to burn the tape, Atkinson should do the exact opposite and have his players watch this one on a loop until it’s time to take the court again.
And how about that “slippage” coach?
“And again I keep talking about slippage,” Atkinson continued. “We’ve slipped, and it’s part of the NBA. We’ve got to, again, regroup and look at it and try to find areas we can help our guys in.”
The surprising offensive production from the Nets this season has covered up their holes on defense. It’s when, however, that offense begins to stall is where a team must step it up on the other side of the ball and the Nets are coming up short in that department.
This team misses Jeremy Lin and his ability to create on offense, they also miss his energy and the stability he brings to both sides of the court. The Nets are doing everything they can, with Isaiah Whitehead, Sean Kilpatrick, Randy Foye, and Yogi Ferrell taking turns at the point. It’s only added to the importance of getting Lin back into the lineup.
But Lin alone isn’t going to solve Brooklyn’s struggles on defense, that will require a team effort.
All the three’s are great when they’re falling, and the ball movement should return when Lin’s hamstring is healthy again. But it won’t matter how good the offense is if the defense can’t stop the other team from scoring.
Atkinson has done a good job of getting his team to buy into his plan, now it’s time to reinforce that plan but with an added emphasis on team defense.