The New Jersey Nets proved tonight that no lead is safe.
After storming out to an 18-point lead midway through the second quarter, the Nets reverted to their losing ways, stumbling to a 104-94 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at The Izod Center.
The Nets led, 62-47, early in the third quarter and then the wheels came off. Every Memphis bucket drained a little more faith out of the 12,076 fans in attendance. The Grizzlies put together two long runs in the third and fourth quarters. Memphis went on a 19-6 run, followed by a 17-0 run that extended into the fourth quarter.
After trailing for the majority of the night, the Grizzlies found themselves with an 83-74 lead after their 17-0 run. What once was an 18-point Nets’ lead turned into a 9-point deficit. What looked like win No. 6 turned into loss No. 51.
“In the fourth quarter, we see ourselves down 10, that’s almost a 30-point turnaround,” said Courtney Lee, who scored 12 points on 6-of-16 shooting. “Like, [we’ve] got to ask ourselves, ‘what are we doing in that 30-point turnaround?’
Everyone had the same answer to that question: The Nets stopped going to Brook Lopez. Lopez erupted for 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting in the first half. He had just one shot, which he made, in the third quarter. Memphis outscored New Jersey, 31-16, in the third frame.
“We did a good job of pounding the ball inside to Brook, and Brook led us in the first half,” Lee said. “We kind of went away from that. Instead of using Brook as a hub, only good things are going to come out of that… We definitely need to stick to what got us the lead.”
Devin Harris and Courtney Lee alluded to the Grizzlies’ defensive adjustments in stopping Lopez. Memphis guard O.J. Mayo, who scored 17 of his 24 points in the second half, said the adjustments were only part of the turnaround in limiting Lopez’s touches.
“That, and I don’t know why they stopped giving him the ball,” Mayo said with a chuckle. “He was doing a big-time job.”
Veteran guard Keyon Dooling didn’t know why either.
“It’s unfortunate,” Dooling said. “I guess it’s a part of our immaturity as a team… We kind of did them a favor. We just went away from him, we went away from him.”
Despite nearly pounding the Nets into submission, the Grizzlies still allowed the Nets some breathing room. The Nets went on an 8-2 run with 6:01 left in the game that brought them to within four points. After a Harris steal, Lee streaked to the hoop for a driving layup that cut the Memphis lead to 94-90 with 3:55 left.
The Nets never got any closer, however, as the Grizzlies then went on an 8-0 run and closed out the game.
The Nets led, 58-47, at halftime. Although the lead remained double digits, interim head coach Kiki Vandeweghe said that lead was too close for comfort. The Nets needed to finish them off rather than allowing the Grizzlies back in the game.
“When you have a team down like that, that’s when you’ve got to put the pedal to the medal and really end the game,” Vandeweghe said. “We take 21 threes and took them at different times, and you don’t need to do that. We’re a good driving team. We need to stay with what’s working for us.”
The Grizzlies initially led, 13-8, to open the game. The Nets offense took off from there though. With 11:11 left in the second quarter, a Josh Boone putback gave the Nets a 38-20 lead and capped a 30-7 extended run.
Rudy Gay’s three-point play cut the lead to 11 at 40-29, but New Jersey upped its lead to 18 again when a Harris layup made it 49-31. The Nets shot 55.3 percent in the first half and limited the Grizzlies to 43.2 percent. Lopez only scored four points after halftime.
Harris attributed New Jersey’s early success to getting out and running…and finding Lopez.
“We were moving the ball. Obviously, we were getting the ball to Brook inside for easy shots,” Harris said. “Transition, we got some easy buckets and we were offensive rebounding. All three were key for us.”
The Nets finished the game with four players scoring in double figures. In addition to Lopez and Lee, Harris and Yi Jianlian scored 17 and 15 points, respectively.
Rudy Gay scored a game-high 29 points and Zach Randolph added a double-double. Randolph, the first-time All-Star, scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.