Offense won’t matter if Nets can’t play defense

Photo: Jenna Watson/IndyStar

The Nets had a good offseason. Second-year general manager Sean Marks brought players that provided athleticism in D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Trevor Booker and Allen Crabbe in an effort to improve offensively. They finally have playmakers that they lacked last year.

They displayed how good they can be offensively in their season opener by hitting 3s and creating their own shots. They were able to score in the paint often by outrunning the Pacers. Overall, they shot 47.9 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line.  It was something the Nets struggled to do last year, so that can be considered progress. It helped them be in the game.

It was not good enough for them to win the game. The Nets did not play a lick of defense in any point of their 140-131 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Giving up 140 points let alone 110 is a recipe for a loss.

Victor Oladipo was incredulous about the Pacers scoring 140 points when he mentioned last time he was involved in his team scoring 140 points was when he was in high school. He knows this is not the norm for a NBA game. It’s an indictment on the Nets.

It was a winnable game for the Nets if they played some sort of defense. When they would take a lead in the first half, the Pacers would come back and take the lead and go on a run. The Nets couldn’t get stops when they have to. They couldn’t get the rebounds, and the Pacers got too many second-chance scoring. There was no resistance whenever the Pacers were able to score in the rim. The Pacers shot 52 percent overall in the game.

How bad the Nets were defensively? The Pacers had eight players scoring in double figures, and they had three players scoring at least 20 points.  They outscored the Nets 28-13 in transition, and 66-52 in the paint. Most of the Nets had – in +/- stats. 

The Nets were soft. There’s no other way to describe this ineptitude on defense.

It’s hard to sell progress if the Nets can’t play defense. This has to be disappointing for second-year coach Kenny Atkinson, who prides himself in being a developmental coach and a defense-first coach. He knew the Nets had deficiencies on defense, but he couldn’t have possibly known how bad they really are.

It takes effort to grab rebounds, get loose balls and play physical. It should be ingrained in the players’ heads that defense is an integral part of their game. It has to be a mindset. It’s clear the Nets have so much work to do to be competent on defense.

Having a natural gift on offense is all well and good, but to be a winning and complete player, it’s about working on the defensive end and being determined to not let their counterpart score against them.

The Nets should have doubleteamed Myles Turner (21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks), and they should not have let him push them around like he did. He was able to create his own second-chance scoring.

Oladipo (22 points on 6-of-12 shooting) hit open shots when he had room to shoot. When the Pacers were able to create a turnover, he got the ball and made his shots.

Darren Collison (21 points), ex-Net Bojan Bogdanovic (14 points), Domantas Sabonis (16 points) and ex-Net Thaddeus Young (17 points) scored in the paint without any resistance. They made it look easy.

When 37-year-old Damien Wilkins was able to score on the Nets, it’s a problem. Keep in mind he hasn’t played in the league for four years.

Sometimes it’s not a crime for the Nets to give up a foul just so the Pacers did not get an easy layup. Let a Pacer get his point on free throws instead.

The Nets had no answer when the Pacers had a 10-0 third quarter run to break a 65-65 tie. After the Pacers took a 90-79 lead in the third quarter, it was basically game over. Sure the Nets made it a game in the fourth quarter, but the Pacers did not have to worry when they knew they could score whenever they needed a basket.

There was a lesson to be learned for the Nets. Scoring can’t be the only thing they have to do. Fortunately for them, they are a young team that can learn and get better. It’s going to take work. Players have to learn to sacrifice their offense for defense. It’s a matter of who wants it more.

The Nets are going to be a fine offensive team. They can take the ball to the basket, and they can run an offense well. They will give you performance on offense like they did in their season opener.

Still, it’s going to mean nothing if they don’t play defense. Bad teams don’t become good just by scoring. It’s rare a team wins anything unless they play some semblance of defense.

There’s no question Atkinson is going to lecture his players about working on their game defensively. He had to be disgusted knowing it’s a game the Nets could have won and should have won.

Learning process for a young team is not meant to be pretty. There are going to be more games like this to come. The players need to be determined to change the way the Nets play. They have to pay the price and put in the work to be a good defensive team.

The Nets can talk about how improved they are offensively, but it’s how they learn and apply defensively that will determine how much they improved from last season.

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