The Nets proved they were a threat in the first two games of their opening series against the Atlanta Hawks, and they showed that they are just as capable of winning it against the No. 1 seed.
Brooklyn held home court and buried Atlanta, 91-83, in a game that was never in doubt. The Hawks barely led and the Nets cemented the game during an 18-0 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters. The Hawks’ lead is now just 2-1, with Game 4 slated for Monday night in Brooklyn.
The Hawks have played in a pedestrian manner throughout the series, shooting below 40 percent in the second and third games. They have not resembled a team that won 60 games during the regular season, looking more like the team that fell to the New York Knicks in the final month.
“I think we knew we could beat this team,” forward Joe Johnson said. “In both games, going down the stretch we had chances to win the game.”
Brook Lopez and DeMarre Carroll each scored a game-high 22 points, while four of the Nets starters scored in double figures. Only Deron Williams, who was struggling at 1-for-7 and left the game banged up, failed to crack 10 points. The Hawks, on the other hand, only had three guys eclipse that number.
“We had a hard time scoring tonight,” guard Kyle Korver said. “You have to give (Brooklyn) credit for their defense and their role in that .. They are a big, physical team and they were pushing us off our spots a little bit.”
Atlanta has lacked any tangible impact from its coach, Mike Budenholzer, who received the Coach of the Year award prior to Game 2. Lionel Hollins has coached with far more urgency, playing three of his starters over 40 minutes. Budenholzer, on the other hand, played no one more than 38 minutes, and All-Star point guard Jeff Teague did not even crack 30 minutes.
His replacement, Dennis Schroeder, went 1-for-9 and the Hawks were outscored by 13 points with him in the game. Hollins’s adjustments have made this series far closer than any expected, and Budenholzer’s refusal to push his starters has given the Nets life.
Atlanta did not exactly sound like a team beaming confidence following the game. Not only did Budenholzer look last at the podium, but players DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap each contradicted each other about what was plaguing the team. The Nets have them frustrated.
“They did what they were supposed to do and that is how we look at it,” Millsap said. “We have another game here and hopefully we’ll figure it out.”
The Hawks are not that dominant one-seed that instills a lot of fear in its opponent. Budenholzer relies on a lot of role players who do not shoot the ball particularly well, and the team has lost the ball movement that made it successful over the course of the season.
Hollins and the Nets have done their job in cracking the Hawks’ system.
“It’s just hustle,” Hollins said. “They held us under 40 percent too, so both teams are just scrapping and clawing.”
Game 4 will be on Monday night at Barclays Center. The Nets were the first team to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole that trailed by two games entering Game 3.
“It’s important that we come out with the same hustle and energy, and the same execution on Monday night,” Hollins added.
“I don’t know if anybody else knows, but I’m definitely aware of (the chances) if you go down 3-0,” point guard Jarrett Jack said. “No team has ever come back from that deficit in a seven game series. So for us, we just wanted to come out and hold serve on our home court.”