By Ian Parfrey @Ianparfrey
All good things must come to an end, and the Nets’ 7-game winning streak did just that in Atlanta tonight. The Nets trailed wire-to-wire, and lost 109-95 to a Hawks’ team that was without leading scorer Josh Smith. Brook Lopez was the lone bright spot for the Nets, with 22 points (10-14 FG) and 9 rebounds. Joe Johnson scored 15 points in his first game back in Atlanta, but made only 4-of-15 shots.
The Hawks won this game with their speedy guards, who were able to ignite successful fast breaks on almost every Nets miss or turnover. Jeff Teague led Atlanta with 28 points and 11 assists, and ex-Net Devin Harris added 18 points. The Nets also struggled with their interior defense, as Al Horford pounded them for 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Zaza Pachulia played one of his best games of the season (13 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists) filling in for Smith, who was suspended for one game for an incident at Atlanta’s practice yesterday.
The Nets kept it close in the early going thanks to their work on the offensive glass. They had 9 offensive rebounds in the first quarter, and trailed 22-20 after a short jumper by MarShon Brooks with 1:46 left. The Hawks went on a 12-0 run over the next 3 minutes, capped by a Devin Harris fast-break layup, to take a 34-20 lead. Mirza Teletovic hit a corner three to get the Nets within 38-31 with 7:19 left in the second, but the Hawks stepped on the gas again, and took a 56-40 lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Hawks opened their biggest lead at 73-47 when Al Horford dunked home a fast-break alley-oop from Jeff Teague with 7:36 left, causing P.J. Carlesimo to call a timeout. From there, the Nets’ bench slowly chipped away at the lead, coming within 12 points several times in the fourth quarter, but they never made a serious threat.
Other than Lopez, Kris Humphries (10 points, 7 rebounds in 18 minutes) and Andray Blatche (12 points, 6-7 FG) played well. Gerald Wallace returned to action after missing two games with bruised ribs, but could only give the Nets 4 points and 2 rebounds in 15 minutes. On the negative side of the ledger, Deron Williams scored 12 points on 5-18 FG, and struggled to contain the younger, quicker Jeff Teague. While Williams had 9 assists, the Nets had very few easy baskets, and never got into an offensive flow. The Nets also shot 4-26 from downtown. Keith Bogans missed all 6 of his three-point attempts, and contributed nothing to the score sheet except a turnover and a foul in 17 minutes.
The Nets will have a chance to get revenge on Friday night, when they face the Hawks in Brooklyn. The Nets will need to play better on both sides of the ball to salvage the split in this home-and-away series. Tonight was a little bit of a “trap game,” with the Hawks facing Joe Johnson, their former star player, and also eager to end a 1-6 stretch that included a humiliating 97-58 loss to the Bulls on Monday.
The Nets are now 23-16, 2 games behind the Knicks for the Atlantic Division lead, and 5th in the Eastern Conference.