After falling to the NBA–best Indiana Pacers by just one point, 97-96, on Saturday night, the Brooklyn Nets had nothing to feel ashamed of. They competed with excellent energy and made do with what they had.
But at the same time, Deron Williams and company had to feel as though the unavailability of one player is what ultimately cost them a stunning victory at the end of the night.
Not Brook Lopez, who the Nets have learned to win without during January. Not even the defensive sparkplug that Andrei Kirilenko has proven to be since returning to the lineup almost a month ago.
It was the absence of backup center Andray Blatche, who banged up his hip during Friday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, which prevented the Nets from pulling off a huge upset in Indianapolis.
Missing the 12 points Blatche has averaged per game coming off of Brooklyn’s bench this season wasn’t the difference-maker in the contest’s final outcome, even though it was just a single point that separated the two sides after 48 minutes of action.
What was the defining factor, however, was the loss of Blatche’s height. Indiana is easily one of the bigger – if not biggest – teams the league has to offer, and having a physical seven-footer on the shelf, (with all due respect to the called-upon Mason Plumlee) will hurt you every time you’re put up against bigs like Roy Hibbert, David West and Ian Mahinmi.
Second chance points didn’t kill Brooklyn by any means, as they only allowed four all night, but giving up 12 offensive rebounds and grabbing only six for themselves were certainly backbreakers once things were said and done. Extra possessions gained or surrendered against a team as efficient as the Pacers, are absolutely crucial.
The biggest takeaway from this game, though, is that the Nets won’t have much of a chance against Indiana in a playoff series without Blatche’s size and physicality.