There’s a term coaches hate: Moral victories. They often come after losses. But the Brooklyn Nets losing 110-108 to the Milwaukee Bucks, with Jeremy Lin having a rough shooting night but doing a lot of other things to put the Nets within one possession of winning the game, had a lot of things to feel good about despite the loss.
A second game on a back-to-back and playing without Brook Lopez was always going to be difficult. Lin, who played 34 minutes the night before, was always going to have early issues with adjusting to big minutes. Back to backs are especially difficult early in the season, but it’ll look much better later on, and we won’t see Lin suddenly facing “tired legs syndrome” hampering his game. He finished with 12 points on 4-for-16 from the field, but the Nets wouldn’t be in a position to win the game if it wasn’t for his defense (3 steals) and quick thinking, some of it manifesting in the 10 assists he finished with, his first double double for the Nets.
The Bucks won on a buzzer-beating tip in by John Henson. The Nets actually handled the long, big Bucks players rather well on the glass for most of the game, but they were outscored 54-42 in the paint, which remains a sore spot for the Nets defense this season, and probably will continue to be for a while. Justin Hamilton can shoot, but if the Nets are expecting Trevor Booker (14 points, 14 rebounds), Anthony Bennett (9 points) and Luis Scola (14 points) to plug holes in the paint, that’s not going to work.
So what worked and what didn’t for Lin? Everything but the shooting. It happens. Being tired doesn’t just mean your legs don’t have the same spring to them. It usually affects the decisions as well, and Lin could have given up on some shots, but there was nothing that felt too forced from him. Also having to deal with a physical Bucks team that had less to concentrate on, not to mention the grueling mission of playing against Matthew Dellavedova, and you get an understandable off night when it came to scoring. Lin probably deserved more than just 5 trips to the line, but home-court officiating wasn’t why the Nets lost.
Lin still did a lot. He finished with 3 steals, including a big one near the end to set up the Nets coming close, first with a Sean Kilpatrick free throw, and then an assist of his found Bojan Bogdanovic for a game-tying 3-pointer. Lin finished with 6 assists in the fourth quarter, four of them after he came in for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with just over 5 minutes to go. He finished with a +12 during his 33 minutes, while Trevor Booker, who has a very good understanding with Lin, had a team best +15.
Lin is building a nice understanding with Booker, who is especially dangerous when he moves to the basket while Lin is too. He sees Bogdanovic moving off screens and towards the hole very well, and he should be playing more with Kilpatrick. Lin continues to create a lot of open shots for other players just by getting inside. It was a bit more difficult for him without Lopez, having to go through too many big bodies along the way.
Besides more inside defense, the Nets have a problem with Hollis-Jefferson. He defends well, but gives them almost nothing on offense, with 3 points on 23.7 minutes per game, shooting 25% from the field. Bogdanovic offers very little defense, while Kilpatrick does a much better job at it without losing too much offensively. Atkinson will need to do a better job at balancing the lineups and giving Lin some rest, although it’s easier when Lopez isn’t taking a rest.