Moke Hamilton, NBA Analyst
He stood up from inside of his locker with a bucket of ice nearby. He closed his eyes as he stood and let out a long sigh. He limped across the locker room on his way out, when a familiar voice yelled out from across the locker room.
“How you doing?”
It was Lionel Hollins, smiling and jovial after his Brooklyn Nets beat the Hawks 91-83 Saturday and avoided the inescapable 0-3 pit from which no NBA team has emerged to win a playoff series.
“Fine,” he said, simply. And as he limped out of the locker room and across Barclays Center, Thaddeus Young greeted some of his loved ones along the way.
That his lower extremities were throbbing should come as no surprise — carrying a team on your back does that.
Two months after Young got the surprising news that he had been traded for Kevin Garnett, this feeling — painful, yet somehow satisfied relief — is what he had hoped to experience.
And as he limped out of the locker room and planned his evening of relaxation, Young was thinking about his journey to this point.
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Josh Newman, Field Reporter
Should Brook Lopez opt out of the final year of his contract and hit the open market this summer?
That is quite literally the million-dollar question the 7-footer is facing and one that isn’t going away as this Nets season begins to wind down and July 1 looms.
If Lopez opts in for the final year of his four-year, $60.8 million contract, he stands to make $16.7 million. That is a large amount of money, especially for someone who has had a well-documented recent history of foot trouble that threatened to derail a promising career.
The final year of his deal aside, Lopez has proven this season that he is healthy, and, while the foot troubles will always be part of his resume, he appears to be beyond them.
That said, at the age of 27 with the injury history, the prudent move is to opt out, hit unrestricted free agency and secure another multi-year contract, whether from the Nets or elsewhere. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the Nets are the only team able to offer Lopez a five-year deal. Everyone else can only go four years.
A good example of this dilemma might be Lance Stephenson. The Brooklyn native had a breakout season with the Indiana Pacers in 2013-14. He then turned down a five-year, $44 million option to stay, instead signing a two-year, $18 million deal with a team option for a third year with the Charlotte Hornets. Why turn down that all that money from the Pacers? The thinking was, sign the shorter deal, outplay it, then go sign for more years and more money in the middle of your prime at age 26 or 27.
Things have not worked out according to plan as Stephenson struggled this season, averaging just 8.2 points and 4.5 rebounds. Unless that gets turned around next season, the decision to not sign the long-term extension with the Pacers is going to look pretty bad.
Lopez and Stephenson are different cases, but the same idea. Do you take the money or do you roll the dice?
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Recap: The Nets were hot early and late in Brooklyn and cut Atlanta’s lead to 2-1 in the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Need to know: Brook Lopez had 22 points and 13 rebounds, Bojan Bogdanovic 19 points, Thaddeus Young 18 points and 11 rebounds and Joe Johnson 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Nets.
Brooklyn held Atlanta 25 points under their season scoring average. Atlanta shot 35.6 percent (20 percent from three). Paul Millsap led the Hawks with 18 points and 17 rebounds.
The Nets squandered a 15-point lead after the first quarter, but went on an 18-0 run at the end of third and beginning of the fourth while the Hawks went 7:16 without a field goal.
Johnson tied Richard Jefferson for fifth place on the Nets’ all-time playoff three-pointer list (36). . .Johnson and Lopez were a combined 12-for-33 from the floor.
The Nets had nine assists on 11 baskets in the first quarter. But after starting 11-for-22 from field, the Nets missed 12 of their next 16.
Deron Williams was limping with what appeared to be a leg or knee injury and was taken out in the third quarter after going 1-for-8 from the floor. The Nets began the 18-0 run soon after.
Links: AP recap | Box Score
What’s Next: Game 4 is Monday in Brooklyn (7 p.m.).
It certainly felt that way on Wednesday, didn’t it? The Nets, who trailed by nine in the first, looked like they may be in danger of being run out of Atlanta, but they hung around. They were down five after the stanza and by just three at the break. That big push from the Hawks never really came, and Brooklyn hung around. Optimism was running high, even down eight headed to the fourth. It felt like Brooklyn was about to make their final stand, and they did. The Nets pulled within two with just 10 seconds to play. It was time for their stars to make a play. Deron Williams did just that. A perfect head fake got him had a wide-open 15-foot jumper…and he missed. Game over.
“It felt really good. I thought it was in,” Williams told reporters after the game. “I let it go and then it hit the rim and just rimmed out.”
It couldn’t have gotten any easier for Williams, who only had two points (but 10 rebounds and eight assists). It was a shooting practice look. No one was within a five foot radius. And, when the ball rimmed out, it just felt like that would be all she wrote for the Nets’ season.
“All is not lost,” said Jarrett Jack, who had a game-high 23 points. “Our confidence is high.”
Maybe the Nets are treating this trip to Atlanta as a moral victory. The Nets haven’t been dominated by Atlanta like everyone predicted they would be, but that feels like that’s even worse. Brooklyn has played their best game, and they’ve come up short both times. Yes, they’re about to take their home floor — a place they haven’t played well all season — but it doesn’t feel like enough. Nothing does. Atlanta is the better team and they’ve survived the early tests. It’s just a matter of time before they assert themselves.
“It’s frustrating,” Joe Johnson said. “We knew in the playoffs the game would change, it would slow down. It wouldn’t be so much up-tempo and it’s pretty much everything we expected, man. We just gave ourselves a chance down the stretch and that’s what we wanted. We just came up short the last two games.”
Two games from elimination, it seems Johnson’s quote will be the legacy of this Nets’ core.
Recap: The Nets’ fourth-quarter rally fell short in Atlanta as the Hawks took a 2-0 lead in the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Need to know: A 16-7 fourth-quarter run got the Nets close, but Atlanta was able to hold on.
Deron Williams missed a 16-foot baseline jumper with 10.4 seconds left and Atlanta up 93-91. Williams had two points on 1-for-7 shooting (the same numbers as Thaddeus Young).
With Atlanta up 90-89, Joe Johnson (20 points, nine rebounds) missed a floater in the lane with 1:17 left.
Turnovers were the Nets undoing for the second game in a row. Entering the fourth period they had 15 to Atlanta’s six (it was 16-8 for the game).
The Nets went on a 27-9 run after trailing by 12 in the first quarter. Atlanta led 50-47 at halftime and 75-67 entering the fourth.
Jarrett Jack had 23 points, 16 in the first half. It was the most scored by a reserve this NBA postseason. . .Brook Lopez had 20 points and seven rebounds.
Paul Millsap had 19 points (7-for-11, 4-for-4 from three) and nine rebounds to lead Atlanta. Al Horford had 14 points and 13 rebounds despite an injured finger.
The Hawks shot better from three (7-for-16) than inside the arc (12-for-33) in the first half.
Bojan Bogdanovic started in place of Markel Brown and had eight points in 33 minutes (3-for-9 from the floor). Mirza Teletovic, who had been out since January with a blood clot issue, was activated before the game; Earl Clark was inactive. Teletovic was scoreless in 2 1/2 minutes.
Atlanta has a seven-game winning streak against the Nets.
Links: AP recap | Box Score
What’s Next: Game 3 is Saturday in Brooklyn (3 p.m.)
The Brooklyn Nets are in Atlanta to take on the Hawks in the second game of the series.
Atlanta won Game 1, 99-92.
The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. on My9/NBA TV and WCBS.
Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young, Brook Lopez, Markel Brown and Deron Williams are expected to start.
Mirza Teletovic is listed as probably for Game Two on Wednesday in Atlanta.
Teletovic has been sidelined since January 22 when he was removed from a game against the Clippers. Doctors later found blood clots in his lungs.
Speculation began that Teletovic would play this series when he returned to practice last week, but he was held out of the Nets’ 97-92 loss in Game One.
In 40 games prior this season, Teletovic averaged 8.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 22.3 minutes, while shooting 38.2 percent from the field.
It is going to be great to see Mirza back on the court. It was such a scary situation when he went down, and if he can come back and somehow power the Nets to a win in Game Two…that would just be one heck of a story. Time will tell just how much the Nets can expect from Mirza, but I would assume you can expect to see a lot of him in crunch time. This could be a major X-factor for the series. At the very least, Nets fans can breathe a huge sign of relief that Teletovic is in good health.