The Brooklyn Nets have had a roller coaster season so far. They came in with championship aspirations, looked to be one of the worst teams in the NBA for a while, and now have won 10 of their last 12 and look like contenders again. A number of things have made a difference including a much improved defense.
“The difference in the way we’re playing is we were thinking secondary as we come in,” Garnett told Tim Bontemps of the NY Post. “Then Brook [gets hurt], Deron’s been beat up, and we’ve had to be primaries now. When you’re secondary, which [we were for] the first time in our careers, you take a step back. You’re not as forceful … you don’t want to step on everybody’s toes.
“When you’re a primary, plays are being called for you … not only that but you’re touching the ball, you’re in a rhythm. Then the mentality of a primary is different. We’re thinking like primaries, we’re out here trying to be aggressive. I think guys on the team are looking for us to be that. I don’t know. I guess the mindset of coming here helping versus being it, is just a difference. We’ve come out with the competitive nature that people know us to be. We’re not asking any questions and our team is looking for us to be that. To lead with that leadership, and that’s the difference.”
The injury to Brook Lopez was the key to this. Neither player wanted to leave Boston and neither was comfortable taking a lesser role. It showed in the way they played, their body language, and just being a more important cast member seems to have spurred both players.
With Lopez out, Jason Kidd switched Garnett to center, where his defense has had a much bigger impact, and Paul Pierce to the four, which has allowed them to play a smaller back court with a lot of success. Those two moves really improved the defense and, as a result, seems to have given both players a lot more confidence.
Look at the numbers — in 2013, Garnett averaged 6.5 points and 6.9 rebounds with a true shooting percentage of 39.8. In his last 10 games, he has averaged 8.1 points with 7.1 rebounds per game and a TS% of 64.2. Similarly, Pierce averaged 12.6 points with 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game with a TS% of 54.4. In his last 12 games, he has averaged 14.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists with a 55.8 TS%.
Many people though, along with myself, that Lopez’s injury could have been the death knell of this team. In hindsight, it seems to have finally woken them up.