Michael Scotto, SNYNets.com
BROOKLYN — Brooklyn has become allergic to sizable leads this season at an alarming rate. To make matters worse, no over-the-counter prescription can rid Brooklyn of their allergic reaction during the third quarter this season.As of December 22nd, in six of 12 Brooklyn losses, the Nets have squandered a double-digit lead.
“This is a bad habit that’s forming,” said Deron Williams after Brooklyn blew a 13-point lead to the Utah Jazz on December 18th at home. “We can’t keep giving leads away. We have to be mentally tougher than that.”
Brook Lopez agreed with his pick-and-roll partner.
“I think we just need to come out more focused in the third quarter, the first five minutes and really go at (opponents),” said Lopez.
As Lopez points out, Brooklyn’s uninspired play in the third quarters has become an alarming trend and the main culprit for its inability to hold double-digits leads.
“We’ve talked about it,” said Williams. “It’s something that we’re very conscious of. Maybe because we’re so conscious of it, it’s kind of the reverse affect. For whatever reason we’ve got to come out and have better third quarters. We have these leads, we build these leads and a lot of our home losses we’ve had 12, 13, 14 point leads and then the third quarter just costs us.”
The game against Utah was a microcosm of Brooklyn’s struggles this season. Against the Jazz, the Nets were outscored by nine points in the third quarter after entering the locker room with a 13-point lead at halftime.
“The third quarter has been our Achilles heel and we haven’t figured it out,” said Joe Johnson. “I don’t know if it’s just the energy level, but we turn the ball over so much. We can’t even get into the first play and now we’re all kind of discombobulated and one turnover leads to another and another. It’s on us as players because this has been kind of a trend for us and we’ve got to get out of this.”
Coach Avery Johnson, who played in the NBA for 16 years and helped lead the San Antonio Spurs to its first NBA championship back in 1999, knows the value of managing the game.
“We’ve got to get in and make that (third quarter) adjustment in the game and value the basketball more,” said coach Johnson.
Williams echoed the ideology of coach Johnson when asked about Brooklyn’s lack of offensive cohesion in third quarter play this season.
“We’ve just got to come out with more energy, execute better, keep taking care of the ball, and just a more sense of urgency,” said Williams. “We can’t get satisfied going up 12, 13, 14 points and expect teams to just lay down with 24 minutes of basketball left.”
The execution of coach Johnson’s system has been a topic of controversy recently, especially in the third quarter when Brooklyn looks stagnant.
After winning the NBA Coach of the Month award in November, Johnson’s system was critiqued by Williams before Brooklyn’s matchup with his former team.
“That system (in Utah) was a great system for my style of play,” said Williams. “I'm a system player, and I loved coach (Jerry) Sloan's system. I loved the offense there.”
Afterwards, Williams went on to clarify his comments more specifically.
“I said we’ve had struggles on offense here, I haven’t felt as comfortable here, which I’ve said all year,” said Williams. “Hasn’t changed. My stance hasn’t changed. I said I can adapt to any offense and I’m working toward that.”
Since arriving from Utah, Williams has struggled with his jump shot mightily. Williams has shot 38 percent from the field during his 92-game tenure with the Nets franchise under coach Johnson.
Despite the recent stymied third quarter offense, Joe Johnson thinks the solution comes down to the team looking itself in the mirror and going back to basics.
“I think when we come out it’s just as players, we’ve got to be more in tune to what’s going on and we’ve got to stay with what’s working more than anything,” said Joe Johnson. “I think we kind of have a tendency to get away from what’s working or worked for us in the first half and it’s not good.”
Coach Johnson and his staff are working on adjustments to stop the collapses.
“We’ll keep searching,” said coach Johnson. “Like I’ve told the players, we’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball.”
The frustration level in the locker room is at a season-high.
“I think the guys are upset and I think it’s got to hurt a little bit deeper because we can’t keep giving up double-digit leads like this,” said coach Johnson.
This could be a turning point for Brooklyn this season. Brooklyn will either continue to spiral and forfeit leads and victories or stop the bleeding and gain the killer instinct needed to put away teams.
Michael Scotto is an Analyst for SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter for the latest news from Brooklyn and the NBA: @MikeAScotto