BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Brooklyn Nets guard Jarrett Jack rolled around a screen content to make the next pass on a night where he accounted for the best ball movement of his team's first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks.
His head held high, the Hawks read Jack's body language and went under the screen. It was a logical decision made against one of the NBA's worst three-point shooters at the point guard position, but it backfired. Jack took a rhythm dribble and fired a three-pointer from 26 feet out, providing the Nets with a critical basket and pushing their fourth-quarter lead to 81-69.
In a game that went back and forth throughout, there was a sense of finality as Jack retreated on defense. It proved true as the Nets finished with a 91-83 win against the Hawks in Game 3 to eliminate the possibility of a sweep. The Hawks now lead the series, 2-1.
The Nets finally pulled out a close game in a series defined by only a few possessions, and, once again, Jack was their best player. Sure, Jack finished the game with only five points, five rebounds and eight assists, but he orchestrated the Nets' offense, dictated a grind-out pace that stifled the Hawks and served as a key component in an 18-0 run that helped keep Brooklyn ahead at a critical juncture of the game.
[daily_cut.NBA]"I thought one of the biggest plays in the game was Jarrett Jack's three at the top of the key," Nets coach Lionel Hollins said without prompting. "They tried to go under when Joe was playing four and (Paul) Millsap and (Jeff) Teague were struggling to get to him, and were playing cat and mouse, and Jarrett just pulled up and shot a three. You know, that kind of gave us the sign of relief like, 'OK, we can carry this home.'"
This performance came after Jack tried it the other way in Game 2. On Wednesday night, he came out firing and finished with 23 points and five assists. His Nets also lost, 96-91. Jack said he allowed the game to determine his approach on Saturday rather than emerging from the bench intent to score.
"Playing the point guard position, that's what it is," Jack said. "You survey, you take the pulse of the game, and understand what's necessary, when, why and sometimes what isn't. I think that makes you a better player. For me to come in and start, not necessarily trying to be aggressive, but looking for me to just shoot, I don't think that was needed for this game. I was going to be aggressive, but if the defense collapsed on me, I was going to find people."
Here's an example of Jack drawing the defense and hitting a wide-open teammate:
This approach allowed Jack and the Nets to dictate pace. The desired effect was to slow the game and muck up the Hawks' free-flowing offense. This worked on every level, as Atlanta had offensive possessions on which it tried and failed to move the move and completed others that ended with fewer than one pass or less. Simply put, the Hawks were out of sync and it showed.
While DeMarre Carroll was able to find his offense and scored 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting and Paul Millsap added 18 points, no other Hawks player emerged. Their best shooter, Kyle Korver, was 1 of 8 for only two points.
This was not the Hawks of old. In the regular season, the Hawks played at the 15th fastest pace in the NBA despite being a team that prides itself on the pass. Atlanta used 96.2 possessions per game on the year. The Nets, on the other hand, sat at 24th and used 95.0 possessions. On Saturday, the Hawks had 90, a number Millsap said was far too few.
"That's a main point of emphasis, I think, going into next game, not getting caught up into their pace," Millsap said. "We played pretty slow tonight. That's not how we play. We play fast, we get up and down the court, we run a lot of pick and rolls. We got caught into their pace tonight, simple as that. They did a good job of slowing us down."
When the Nets weren't slowing the Hawks down, they were forcing them into tough three-point attempts. Atlanta struggled from the field at 35.6%, but it was downright awful from behind the arc, hitting 20% of its attempts (6-30). Millsap had a cure for that, as well.
"Personally, I think we settled a lot," Millsap said. "There was a stretch when we were shooting straight jump shots. We shoot a lot of three-point shots, but it's not the three-point shots that we took tonight. Normally we drive hard, we either get fouled, kick it out to open shooters. This time I felt like we settled for a lot of jump shots."
Despite their struggles, Millsap and Carroll balked at the idea that they had let Brooklyn back into the series. It's hard to know at this point, but there were still telltale signs that the Nets are still the Nets. Hollins sat at the podium and went over all the reasons his team shouldn't have won. As he looked down at the stat sheet, he told reporters his team was outscored 25-2 in fast-break points and trailed 50-30 in points in the paint. Hollins failed to mention that Deron Williams was 1 of 8 for only three points. He has now scored a total of 15 points on 6-of-18 shooting in three games.
Those statistics are valid, but perhaps the most surprising number is the Nets had lost six straight to the Hawks. It has to be deflating to lose to a team six times in a row, but while that sense of defeat could set in, there are also advantages to seeing a team so many times over the course of a season.
"It's a group we feel like we're pretty familiar with now—their personnel, their tendencies, the plays they like to call," Jack said. "I think we have some advantages that we're going to try to exploit to keep this thing going on Monday."