NJN@LAL 11.25.07


By: NBASCOUT / Special to netsinteractive.com

Nets 102, Los Angeles 100

Los Angeles, CA, Nov. 25 — Christmas came early for the New Jersey Nets this balmy evening in Los Angeles. A month to the day early – to be exact!

The Nets are now set to return home to the Meadowlands from their annual Thanksgiving trek on a blissful note. They concluded their successful Western road swing with a stirring two-point victory over the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers.

It must be said, though, that this victory, against arguably the highest profile team in basketball, was not merely a fluke. The Nets worked very hard for this victory. Each and every one of them contributed. It was a total team effort! It was both a defensive effort as well as an offensive one. It was a dramatically heroic effort as well.*

This event was so good, it reminded of a seventh-game finals contest, in a bygone era, when a limping Center by the name of Willis Reed hobbled out on to the court to help inspire the \’69-\’70 New York Knickerbockers to a title-winning victory over the Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain-led Lakers. NO! This was only an early season game – not a playoff-intensity affair – but there was true grit on display by New Jersey on both sides of the ball and all ends of the court.

Now, can you imagine? New Jersey managed to prevail against the winningest team in professional basketball history with an upset victory, 102-to-100, in the final moments of a cliffhanger at the STAPLES Center in downtown Los Angeles that left the crowd stunned … shaking their heads. They were in a state of disbelief beyond repair! \”How can Kobe blow it? … A free-throw …?\” These were the burning questions of the day percolating through the minds of the Lakers\’ faithful as they headed home.

The Nets can now retire to the familiar confines of the Meadowlands\’ IZOD Center as they prepare to take on yet another upcoming foe in the visiting Memphis Grizzlies, Tuesday, November 27, confident in the fact that they celebrate a winning record (3-1) on the road during the Thanksgiving break for the very first time during the Jason Kidd era. Halleleujah! The real challenge now is not to let down.

There were many plots and sub-plots to this matchup. There was Vince Carter versus Kobe Bryant … Future Hall-of-Fame Coach Phil Jackson versus the youngest choir boy Coach in the league in Lawrence Frank … And the Andrew Bynum package for Jason Kidd deal that didn\’t go down! Even the referees got into the act, which I\’ll mention later. Yeah, there was a lot going on, but first, a little bit of the score progression and play-by-play!

The game itself, started off in nondescript fashion. New Jersey Coach Lawrence Frank elected to start off with offensively-challenged, defensive-specialist, C Jason Collins, in the middle along with journeyman PF Malik Allen at the corner. That seemed a prescription for offensive trouble against the likes of PF Lamar Odom and C Andrew Bynum, even though PG Jason Kidd, SG Antoine Wright and SF Richard Jefferson rounded out the starting cast.

Sure enough, in predictable fashion, the Nets gamely tried to keep up, but were trailing by eight as they quickly fell behind the confident Lakers, 26-18, by the end of the first quarter. They then moved out to a fourteen-point deficit at the 3:14 mark before the first half was barely finished. Culprits included poor shooting and turnovers. Coach Frank tinkered with various combinations, but try as he might, the Nets could only manage to cut it to twelve at the break. Indeed, this game, at that point, had the ominous feeling of another dismal failure … along the lines of other recent opening acts … by New Jersey … during their six-game losing streak.

Then \’lo and behold,\’ as if a miracle happened, Coach Lawrence Frank unveiled a different rotation and combinations that began to work. He went small with rookie PF/C Sean Williams in the middle at Center surrounded by SF Richard Jefferson, PF Bostjan \”Boki\” Nachbar, PG Jason Kidd and SG Vince Carter.

Slowly, but surely, the Nets clawed their way back, bucket-by-bucket, and with a primal surge of energy managed to tie the game at 72-all heading into the final twelve minutes. Vince Carter hit a big 3-point shot to tie it up with seconds remaining before the period expired.

[Los Angeles was actually outscored by twelve in the vital third quarter. New Jersey didn\’t realize it, but they put up a whopping 35 points as against the Lakers\’ 23.]

With the game even, the stage was now set for the final dramatic act in the closing minutes that ended with the curtain falling in on the Lakers in the final moments of the fourth quarter. Behind the inspired play of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter and Boki Nachbar, New Jersey suddenly found itself with as much as a twelve point lead (@ 91-79 w/ 4:26 remaining) after a 10-0 run to start the fourth.

Having trouble clinging to prosperity, the Nets saw their tenuous lead fall away as the Lakers answered with a furious 17-3 rally of their own to whittle the Nets lead to a bare point at 94-93 with 2:02 remaining. Kobe Bryant turned up the heat with \’bombs-away\’ from trey-land. He mixed it up with drives-to-the-hoop and free-throws.

Derrick Fisher joined him. That turned it into a seesaw battle the rest of the way that had each team go up by no more than a few points before the closing curtain.

After a long miss by Jason Kidd, reserve Lakers\’ PG, Sasha Vujacic (pronounced: Voo-ya-chick), drew \’first blood\’ with a fast-break, 25-foot trey from beyond the arc, off a feed from Kobe, to put the Lakers up by two, 96-94. Out of a timeout, New Jersey answered with a drive to the basket by Richard Jefferson.

Richard drew a foul, but the usually reliable RJ sank only one of two free-throws. The Nets were still down by a point, 95-96, with time running out and the Lakers in possession.

It was then that the turning point of the game occurred. RJ stole the ball. That\’s right. He stole the ball from Kobe Bryant in transition to the front court. With a clear path to the basket, Vujacic chased him down and delivered a flagrant foul.

RJ redeemed himself for the missed free throw on the previous sequence by dropping these two in. The Nets were up 97-96 and also retained possession of the ball, but Wright couldn\’t hit a 26-footer from beyond the arc.

Bynum pulled down the defensive rebound off of Wright\’s miss, but Kidd, in a critically smart play, with a team foul to spare, grabbed Bynum to slow down the break. This was huge because the Lakers were set to take it to the hole at the other end. The Nets weren\’t ready to get back.

In the ensuing possession, Derrick Fisher pulled down an offensive rebound off his own missed lay-up, but Antoine Wright was called for what appeared to be a phantom foul on Fisher with time winding down. Clutch-Point-Guard that he is, Derrick Fisher promptly sinks the pair and the Lakers are now up by only one at 98-97. That was the last lead Los Angeles would enjoy, however.

Boki Nachbar enters the game for Antoine Wright, and after a few shots by the Nets, and some volleyball to keep it alive on the offensive boards by Sean Williams (his own shot was stuffed by Andrew Bynum), Nachbar goes hard to the hoop and is fouled by fellow Slovenian, Sasha Vujacic. It puts him at the line.

With the perfect, consistent form of a professional shooter, Boki Nachbar calmly sinks both. At 99-98, New Jersey took a lead they\’d never relinquish.

Kobe Bryant then races downcourt and pulls up for a 21-footer that fell off the front rim and Vince Carter, bad ankle and all, pulls down a critical rebound off the miss. [This was HUGE.] As the Nets get to the frontcourt, Lamar Odom then fouls Carter in the act of shooting.

Vince calmly pushes the lead to three with a pair of free throws. The Nets, thusly, went over the century mark at 101-98 with seconds remaining.

That turned out to be enough, as Kobe, under the final curtain, got the ball in the front court off of a Lakers\’ timeout, with under 7.4 seconds to go, and was promptly fouled by Jason Kidd – if you saw the phantom call. [I thought it was a clean strip.]

All the same, Kobe marches to the line as the crowd anticipates overtime. One free throw goes down! Two free throws go down! And then, inexplicably, from someone that automatically makes them in \’crunch time,\’ one bounces errantly out of the cylinder.

Bostjan Nachbar alertly grabs the crucial rebound off of Kobe\’s missed freethrow and is immediately fouled by Sasha Vujacic with four seconds remaining.

Unfortunately, Boki proceeds to make only one of two from the line to give the Nets only a three point cushion. That made it possible for a three-point play by the Lakers in the last three seconds to not only tie up the game and send it to overtime, but actually for them to win it if they were fortunate to pull off a four-point play.

Sean Williams is then inserted by Coach Frank into the game to replace Nachbar for defensive purposes, and with three ticks on the clock, long-range specialist Vladimir \”Radman\” Radmanovic comes in for C Chris Mihm. Off the inbounds pass, Radmanovic romptly misses a well-defended 22-foot 3-point shot from the corner.

That miss lets New Jersey escape with the hard-earned victory! My wife was sure the game was going to OT, but I told her the \”fat lady\” had \”sung.\”

When it was all over, the somber crowd filtered out into the gloom of darkness like zombies looking for a way home. You could hear them swearing at the full moon!

NOTES: Landing in the City of Angels, home to the legendary Lakers, must have been something of an awe-inspiring thing for the younger Nets fresh off a few sloppy victories up in Seattle and Portland. The Nets didn\’t expect much from themselves.

To prevail against a team that won more games than any in the history of pro ball was expecting too much. I mean, after all, there were loud reminders above center court that the Minneapolis-Los Angeles Lakers\’ franchise, in its 60th anniversary year, had won more more games and titles (14) than any other.

Seeing so much tradition everywhere, it must have been more than a little intimidating – sort of like walking into the Vatican. All the Nets had to show for themselves were, what I call semi-throwback uniforms, that kindled faint memories of the old ABA title-winning Erving-led New York Nets.

Yet, amidst all of the glitzy glamour of the Hollywood-style, hoops-Mecca that Showtime, Kobe, Shaq and PJax built, the younger Nets must have not only been in awe upon entering the arena, but they must also have felt a bit queasy. With refrains of Randy Newman\’s \”I Love L.A.\” blaring constantly from every corner, they [pick your adjective] meekly took the floor. Only the sight of their inspiring Captain, J-Kidd, embracing Kobe Bryant at center court before tip-off, removed the \’butterflies\’ in the pits of their stomachs.

The Nets edged the Lakers in rebounds by four, assists by seven and turnovers by one. They had three more offensive rebounds (10-to-7).

Interesting stat: The Lakers were called for two technical fouls in the first quarter. Vladimir Radmanovic and Lamar Odom were the offenders. Could this have been the final margin of victory for New Jersey?

18,997 were \”officially\” on hand to witness the event at one of the nicer arenas throughout the entire NBA. [I wonder if those numbers are \’cooked\’ as there were empty seats visible? The arena was about 90-to-95% filled to capacity.] Violet Palmer, Bill Spooner, and Jason Phillips worked the game from the officiating side.

Sights and sounds included Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson dressed like a ZEN-High-Priest with a Vatican-like medallion around his neck. [What did this portend? … A blowout loss at the hands of the \’purple and gold?\’ It is something that might have been going through the minds of those Nets who\’d never seen this place before.]

Slowly, the virginal Nets ascended the ramps of STAPLES\’ magnificent, hardwood temple, ready to be sacrificed on the altar of roundball to the basketball deities of the day. They gathered around their fearless Captain on the floor of this edifice, with all the trepidation of a curious fly, about to enter a venus trap. [At first, Coach Lawrence Frank probably wasn\’t really concerned about a victory. He was likely merely worried about how badly the Nets\’d get hammered.] For most of the first half, the Nets were meek, mild-mannered and well behaved.

Then, to Coach Frank\’s utter amazement, the reconfigured Nets played so well, on the road, during the second half, in what was likely their best performance of the year, against an upper-tier team, that he was probably thinking that they should stay on the road. [I mean, after all, it can\’t help but do them some good to avoid the multifarious distractions of the Garden State?]

The great Vince Carter, who was hobbled with a bad ankle, scored 19 points off the bench on 6-of-8 from the field. He played gingerly, but came up BIG when it counted. He looked like he could barely put weight on his ankle at times.

If this were not enough, with 2:14 left in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, it seemed that Kobe got his arms under his opponent and quick-punched Vince in the stomach to stop him from blowing past to the basket. [Tell me it isn\’t so, Kobe?] Vince drew the foul and sank a pair of free-throws. What a role player? Huh!

The referees also took away a beautiful alley-oop dunk from Vince Carter off a Jason Kidd pass from beyond the arc. Somehow, they claimed it was above the cylinder as Vince threw it down. They knew this was a signature pass from Kidd to Carter. [From my vantage point, it was like telling Picasso one of his brush strokes was off.]

Another strange incident was Referee Violet Palmer\’s chatting with Lakers\’ Assistant Coach Jimmy Cleamons during a timeout just before the phantom call on Jason Kidd for fouling Kobe with seconds remaining. Kobe was well beyond the arc, and not really in the act of shooting, as he flung the ball up to sell it to the officials. [I still haven\’t seen any actual foul on instant replay.] That let Kobe go to the line for – not two – but three free throws! Luckily for New Jersey, he missed one!

Now, for the accolades! Despite the obvious heroes, without everyone doing something to make things go right, the Nets don\’t win. They simply don\’t win!

Indeed, it was a great game with many great plays. Some were large and some were small. The plays can\’t show up in a recap of the box score unless you were there. [Fortunately, I was!]

There were many plays throughout the game that made this victory happen. Some of them were subtle. Others were overt. They are too numerous to mention, but if anything is overlooked herein, apology is due. I expect that ample credit for these significant performances \’beneath the radar\’ will be doled out eventually. If not by the coach, then by sportwriters and bloggers.

Another great hero for New Jersey was Bostjan \”Boki\” Nachbar who ended with 15 points, 3 boards, and three assists. He fizzled from distance, missing all his shots from beyond the arc, but he attacked the basket with abandon. Driving to the rim, he put down some close range shots; a few dunks and a finger roll here or there. He was very active on the floor in all phases of the game. He played defense, took some important charges, stole the ball twice, blocked a shot and made some critical free throws. [They worked out better than Kobe\’s.]

Richard Jefferson, of course, was the MVP of this game. Why? Because if he hadn\’t stolen the ball to change momentum late in the fourth quarter, that would\’ve been the game. That was the \”rope\” that New Jersey didn\’t let go of that Jason Kidd was talking about.

In honor of Richard\’s effort, this special feature almost was titled: \”RJ Stole the Ball.\” [Do know, though, Mr. Jefferson, that this was a team victory and the holiday theme won out!] None the less, the Jefferson[ian] finished with 27 points and three steals to go with five boards, a trio of assists and a block. That reinforces my vote for him to play in the All-star game. He was everywhere when it counted!

Last, but not least, the masterful Jedi Warrior, Jason Kidd, put up 15 points, dished out 14 assists and pulled down seven boards to go with a pair of steals as he skillfully maneuvered the Nets through the rapids to bring them to nirvana. Without Jason Kidd, the Nets simply do not win. He would share MVP honors with RJ were it not for RJ\’s steal. Jason recorded another near triple-double as he poured his heart out … and points into … the basket. He, too, left it all out on the court.

Before I forget, Antoine Wright (7 points, 3 rebounds and an assist) continued his fine defensive play. He helped limit Kobe, with Kidd\’s help, to 7-of-21 shooting from the floor. His tenacious defense was another key factor without which New Jersey doesn\’t win. He also took a charge late in the game in this back-and-forth contest.

Then there were the reserves that played big minutes. Rookie Sean \”Swat\” Williams, though, gets my vote for the unsung hero in this game. I can\’t over-emphasize the impact he had on this game. It was HUGE!

Without Sean, New Jersey doesn\’t win. He altered so many shots … \’Got in the head\’ of so many opposing players … that he was utterly instrumental to victory. Without him, New Jersey doesn\’t win! [Have I said this again?]

While giving up more than a few inches (at least four) and (seventy) pounds to Andrew Bynum, he played tough D on Bynum. That threw Bynum off so much that he missed a point-blank slam-dunk and other key shots.

Sean did so much out there that he only scored modestly (6 points), grabbed some boards (7 rebounds) and blocked a few shots (three blocks), but he was everywhere altering this game. His +18 plus/minus rating was no accident. It was higher than any player that took the floor by a significant margin.

Sean Wiliams changed so many shots that it impacted the entire complexion of the game. He was like a Condor out there. [That is my new nickname for this rare player: \”Condor.\” Use it wisely along with \”Swat.\”]

Once again, it can\’t be overemphasized what the kid [Sean] did. It was like having the old K-Mart back there covering your back.

Then there were the reserves. While Kidd & Co. were \’holding down the fort,\’ the \’Cavalry\’ arrived in the nick of time. PF Josh Boone arched his back and stretched for a critical rebound off a Kobe miss with 5:29 remaining in the game. That was essential to victory.

[Yes, Frank had the courage to leave Josh Boone in there during the fourth quarter. H\’mm … I wonder how Josh and Sean would look together out there on the floor?]

Even spot-starter, Malik Allen, warmed up as the game wore on … hitting 4-of-6 from the field. He was like Bruce Bowen moving to his spots on either side of the baseline … and from twenty feet out … to make his contribution. He also hustled for some loose balls and rebounds.

Speaking of warm-ups, Jason Collins could be seen during pre-game warm-ups dunking! Yeah, a sly smile crept across Jason Collins\’ face when he made a dunk during warm-ups.

[How come he has trouble putting them down during games? Must be that he\’s hiding his offensive prowess!]

Backup PG Eddie Gill came on to run the show giving Jason Kidd a breather here and there. He was super. He hit an important three-point shot from the right side and took a charge late in the game.

He stripped the ball from Andrew Bynum. He got his hands on the ball here and there and, most importantly, pushed the pace! Even Andrew Bynum was flustered by his peskiness.

[Digression of Note: Eddie Gill impressed during his first tour of duty with the Nets years back. His seasoning with other teams like Indiana has improved his shooting. He should be kept on as a fourth-string PG after Marcus Williams returns, which is expected shortly.]

There were many highlights in this game. Some may be overlooked.

Some memorable highlights include a beautiful, three-pronged fast break by RJ, Boki and Vince that had him toss in a difficult overhand layup on the run to finish; and a couple of plays during the Nets\’ run to tie it at 72-all at the end of Q3.

Those plays included a slam in transition by Sean Williams (pictured above); and an important 3-point shot from long-range by Vince Carter to knot-it-up with a few seconds to go before the period expired! [I didn\’t expect it to go down, but Kobe must have inspired it.]

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS: \”Ha Dog … Ha Dog … \” … Street vendors with the aroma of grilled onions in the air … Couple in front of me that knew that they were in the wrong seats because the Lakers lost.

Ordinarily, I root for no one to maintain independence and objectivity, but you had to root for the Nets tonight.

The husband of the couple in front of us, no doubt, felt that they must have been jinxed to attend a game on the wrong night. They heard me cheer for the visitors.

They saw it as an ill omen for their team. You know the feeling: You sit down next to someone at a home game who unexpectedly roots for the other side … You know it\’s a bad omen … And the visiting team wins!

Jason Kidd embracing Kobe at center court before the tip-off was inspirational. Ten dollars for a personal pan (postage stamp-sized) pizza wasn\’t!

The \”Kiss Me\” song accompanied couples on the overhead video screen being spotlighted by the camera. When they saw their faces in a heart-shaped frame, it was time to \’ham it up\’ for a loving smooch.

The cheerleaders were sexy! My wife loved their outfits. I love LA!

Stay tuned as more sights and sounds from the game may follow in a supplemental feature. Of course, it would be entitled: \”Sights and Sounds from the Game.\” [This is tentative depending on time constraints.]

NBASCOUT is an independent freelance sportswriter that covers the NBA and the New Jersey Nets. He is not affiliated with the National Basketball Association. Copyright 2007 by NBASCOUT, all rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the express written consent of the author. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily this website. You may e-mail NBASCOUT in care-of his wife, who writes for children, at kathyforkids@cs.com

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