No Breakthrough, But a Solid Win All the Same

Knicks hold off Rondo-less Celtics 102-97 for fourth straight win

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Sometimes it's okay for a win to be nothing more than a win.

    Before the season started, moving to Brooklyn was hailed as the thing that brought the Nets into a prime spot in the New York sports landscape. 

    It didn't take long for that to get proved wrong. Eli Manning fell apart, the Jets turned into a soap opera of epic proportions (even by their standards) and R.A. Dickey won a Cy Young award to dominate headlines while the Nets were winning four of their first six games. 

    And then there were the Knicks, whose 5-0 start generated 25 times the attention that the Nets were able to generate even though there wasn't too significant a difference between what the two teams had accomplished in the early season. Thursday night looked like the Nets' chance to grab the brass ring. 

    They were at home on national television against the Celtics while the Knicks were starting later in the evening in the tough environs of San Antonio. It was the perfect chance for a statement or breakthrough game that forced people to take notice of the Nets and Avery Johnson, likely under marching orders from an organization that wants more buzz than they're getting, said he was thinking about it that way. 

    They got the 102-97 win and plenty of newspaper men are calling the victory a breakthrough win for the franchise this morning. Unfortunately, it reads a lot more like writing a story to fit a preconceived thesis than anything resembling the truth. 

    First and foremost, the Celtics played without Rajon Rondo which makes it hard to believe that the Nets made any statement other than that they are good enough to beat the Celtics when Boston doesn't have its best player. But only good enough to do it after blowing a comfortable lead in the third quarter to a team that was, again, playing without its best player. 

    You can't kill the Nets for that. They don't make the schedules or choose which opponents will play, they just try to win games. 

    And that's just what they did thanks to timely scoring from Joe Johnson in the fourth and an efficient offensive game (11-14 from the floor) from Brook Lopez. Deron Williams chipped in with 24 points and eight assists and the Nets actually won the rebounding battle to their great benefit. 

    Johnson and Williams still seem to be struggling to figure out how to work together, but they are both getting theirs while Lopez is clearly benefiting from the increased attention defenses have to pay Johnson. Other issues exist, but no team is perfect and the Nets are a lot closer than they've been at any other recent point in their existence. 

    It's absolutely right to feel good about all of these things and to feel good about what it bodes for the future of Nets basketball, but keep things in perspective. The fact that the jersey says Celtics doesn't mean all that much outside the guys wearing it and the Nets did the expected when they beat them on Thursday night.

    The other New York City team was winning a statement game by coming back from 12 down to seven minutes to play in San Antonio. Making matters worse, the Knicks and Spurs, which started a half-hour later than the Nets' game, moved much more quickly than the Nets and Celtics which meant that a lot of viewers likely flipped over in the fourth quarter as they heard about the Knicks comeback instead of watching the slow-moving game from Brooklyn. 

    We're not trying to demean what the Nets accomplished. It was a good win, but it would have said a lot more about the team if they lost to those Celtics than it says that they were able to beat them. 

    It's kinda like when a restaurant opens in Brooklyn with bad service, obscure wines and good food. It gets treated like the second coming and the birth of some new era for the borough when, in fact, it's just an unremarkable restaurant in a city filled with them.

    The Nets had a good win on Thursday night. It was also an unremarkable one in almost any other context. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.