Brooklyn Nets

Houston spoils Lin’s return, 122-118

Jeremy Lin is back and the Nets looked better because of it, but that didn’t stop Houston from bursting Brooklyn’s bubble late.

The Houston Rockets (18-7) won their seventh consecutive game, 122-118, Monday over the Brooklyn Nets (6-17). The Nets scored 75 points in the second half, 42 in the third, behind Brook Lopez, but James Harden (36 points) and the Houston offense were too powerful for the young Nets.

The loss drops Brooklyn to 1-10 on the road this season.

The Nets trailed by as many as 15 in the first half, but fought their way back and left fans on the edge of their seats until the very end. They played catch-up most of the game against the NBA’s hottest team, and still competed in a game they had no business competing in.

Sounds like the early, ‘gritty’ Nets.

To the recap we go…

One would assume a matchup between the Rockets (2nd in points) and the Nets (10th in points) would be nothing less than a shootout. However, by everyone’s surprise it was more of a defensive battle… in the first half.

Following a 12-2 run early in the second quarter, the Rockets looked like they were going to blow it open. They led 53-43 at the half as the Nets shot just 39 percent compared to Houston’s 47 percent. Harden was already inching close to a triple-double, while the Nets’ only player in double figures was Sean Kilpatrick.

Remember that defensive battle thing? It changed in the second half.

Usually things go south for Brooklyn in the third quarter. That wasn’t the case. Their defense was nonexistent, but the offense kept the game close enough. They outscored Houston 42-37 in the third and trimmed the 15-point deficit down to five heading into the fourth quarter.

The 42 points were a season-high for any quarter this season.

It was just the beginning of a nice comeback story for the Nets. They trailed by two with 11 minutes remaining, playing much better with Jeremy Lin on the floor. When he returned, the Nets were down by six with 4:56 left.

Following a 7-0 run, Lin helped Brooklyn gain its first lead since 11-8. With three minutes remaining and another close finish, the Nets helped remind us why the term ‘Brooklyn grit’ is an apt phrase.

But then, they reminded us about the late-game mistakes that all young teams seem to make.

The Nets were down 119-118 with 29 seconds left: So, they went with a Brook-Lin pick-and-roll. Lin pulled up and missed from deep. Fortunately for Brooklyn, Eric Gordon missed one of two free throws.

The Nets were down 120-118 with 11.8 seconds: The Nets had possession, but Sean Kilpatrick committed his seventh turnover on the inbounds. Gordon hit both: game over.

Harden was all too much to handle, scoring 26 of his 36 points in the second half to go along with 11 assists, eight rebounds and two steals.

For Brooklyn, Lopez did all he could, scoring 16 of his 26 in the second half. With Lin in the lineup, Lopez wasn’t sitting on the perimeter waiting for the ball. Instead, we saw pick-and-rolls and post-ups closer to the hoop.

The Rockets, who attempt the most 3-pointers in the NBA, nailed 17 3-pointers on 43 attempts, while the Nets nailed seven on 20 attempts, their lowest total this season. They did, however, own the paint, 68-36, behind Lopez’s dominant night down low.

THE LIN EFFECT

Lin finally returned from a hamstring injury that kept him out for 39 days – dating back to November 2. During that span, the Nets lost 13 of 17 and let a 2-3 record dip to 6-16. The Nets may not be the greatest team with or without Lin, but he makes this a much better team for several different reasons.

The Nets have missed his leadership, and although he showed plenty of it in street clothes from the sidelines, his leadership is much needed on the court. He creates offense not only for himself but for others as well.

As a result, Lin finished with a line of 10 points and seven assists in 20 minutes. The Nets were 17 points better with him on the court.

“I can appreciate it a little bit more after having been out for so long; the game, the experience,’’ Lin said before the game. “So I’m just going in there and I’m going to have a lot of fun competing again and being with my team on the floor.”

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For a rebuilding team like the Nets IT is another moral victory in the books. The team looked confident with Lin in the lineup, especially Lopez, but the young guys stepped up and took strides in the right direction. Think of guys like Isaiah Whitehead (13 points, 5 assists), Rondae Hollis Jefferson (11 points, 5 rebounds) and Joe Harris (9 points, 7 rebounds). All looked a lot more confident and comfortable out there.

As Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks have constantly said: improvement is the most important thing. 23 games in, we’ve seen plenty of it.

The Nets will face off against the Los Angeles Lakers, Wednesday at Barclays Center.

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