Monday night’s Nets-Pacers game was the second NBA game I’ve been to in the past two weeks, and neither game involved the Bulls. Two weeks ago I went to the Suns-Warriors game in Phoenix, and that was great for a few reasons: it was a close game until the final minute, I got to see one of my favorite players, and the tickets were free. This past week, I had a ticket to the Nets-Pacers game in Brooklyn with plans to meet with a sportswriter I had once known from when I used to play at Marist College. We talked for a few minutes before the game and caught up; it had been about 8 years since we’ve last seen each other. We plan on meeting again to discuss how I can go further with this basketball writing thing, so we’ll see what happens.
While I wish I had tickets to the Bulls-Nets Christmas game in Brooklyn, seeing those four teams I feel neutral about was refreshing. It allowed me to step back and just be a basketball fan instead of a furiously clapping idiot screaming ‘DAAA BULLS.’ Plus, I got to see teams and players I haven’t seen before (other than the Nets), and I learned a few things:
1. Steph Curry is even more impressive in person. Seeing him in the highlights is always fun, but being there to actually see him is even better. This can be argued for many players, especially the best ones, but he definitely fits into that discussion. Between his shooting (unreal), passing, ball-handling, running off screens, and overall passion for playing, I really got to see how he plays for a full game when he was both on and off the camera. He scored 30 points and made plays that literally got me out of my seat. If you ever get the chance, go see him in person.
2. Eric Bledsoe is going to be a solid point guard for years to come. He’s poised, doesn’t make too many mistakes, and fills up a stat sheet. I checked the box score and was surprised to see he nearly had a triple double. Either way, he played well. His power and change of speed is also something to see. He gets from half court to the rim in a split second.
3. The Nets are lost. They’re shorthanded in the front court with Brooke Lopez out for the year and their guards are just old. Paul Pierce can still play, but he just can’t physically compete as well as he used to. Joe Johnson is a reliable shooter and still has some youth in his game, so he should probably shoot more. The same can definitely be said about Deron Williams too. I used to think he should shoot less, but the Nets are limited, and his over-passing only hurts them. It’s crazy to think that he used to be in the ‘who’s better, D-Will or CP3?’ discussion not too long ago, but he went from a solid playoff team in Utah to a horrible team in Jersey where he HAD to be the man. Since then, he’s been injured a lot, and now he’s on a team full of new faces and egos. He looks frustrated, but I hope he comes out of this funk and eventually plays with a good team, whether it’s the Nets or not. He’s fun to watch and is a natural basketball player.
I’m glad I can say I saw Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce play in person, too, even though Pierce got ejected in the 3rd quarter for a hard foul on George Hill. It was the kind of play that personifies who Pierce is though. With the Nets falling further and further behind and Pierce not shooting well (0 for 7), he was already frustrated, so it wasn’t surprising to see him take it out on Hill. Paul Pierce has always been one of the toughest competitors in the NBA and is one of the few remaining players in the league who I’ve grown up watching for years, so it was a pleasure to see both him and KG in person.
4. Lance Stephenson players harder than everyone else on the court, or at least he did the other night because he was back in Brooklyn, which he admitted after the game. Regardless, his energy definitely carries this Pacers team. Paul George is also a much better shooter than I thought. He had four 3s and made some very difficult shots. Danny Granger looked very rusty, but it was only his 2nd game back so it’s going to take him some time to get adjusted. And last but certainly not least, Roy Hibbert needs to get the ball on the block more and take more shots. He took 6 the othert night; that’s absolutely crazy. For a center his size with his ability, he should be getting the ball on the block nearly every possession, where he can threaten the defense with either a shot at the rim (he makes about 50% of his shots), or an open look for one of his teammates. This is more of an old-school approach compared to the very popular pick-and-roll, but it still works, especially when you have someone like Roy and a supporting cast full of teammates who are able to score from both the outside or by creating shots for themselves. This Pacers team is tough, but I think they can be even better if they look to Hibbert some more.