The good news for the Nets, in their first game after losing starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season, was that they played pretty much as they did when he was here. They showed effort and energy and they had a good run in them. They were just a little short.
As Lionel Hollins said, “It’s still a team game.” And the Celtics had a bit more of a team Monday night at Barclays Center, winning, 103-94
With Shane Larkin starting at the point and Donald Sloan playing major minutes in the second half, the Nets kept chipping away from a 19-point first-half deficit and drawing within five late in the fourth. Thaddeus Young had 23 points and 15 rebounds, Joe Johnson scored 21, Brook Lopez scored 15 and Bojan Bogdanovich had his first double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds).
It all wasn’t quite enough to offset a career-high 25 points from Jae Crowder and 19 from Isaiah Thomas. Larkin and Sloan had a combined nine points and five assists.
Once Jack’s diagnosis was revealed Sunday, indicating that the acknowledged team leader is out for the season, it was clear that this is Larkin’s ship to run, with backup help from Sloan. General manager Billy King affirmed as much Monday morning, saying that despite his plan to apply for the Disabled Player Exemption, he will give those two players a chance to show what they can do.
King said there are no available point guards capable of “moving the needle.” That was obvious in that the starting job had gone to Jack, a reserve for pretty much all of his NBA career.
Larkin, who had a rocky season with the Knicks last year, said on Monday, “I’ve come in at times and finished games this year, so it’s not a far-fetched idea for me to go out there and play big minutes. I’ve been able to do it this year, just got to go out there on a more consistent basis now and do it. It’s a good opportunity for me.”
Hollins said of Larkin, “He’s played, he’s started a few games. He’s been fine. He just has to be consistent.”
Of course, it has been well documented that the Celtics have the most to gain from the Nets’ woes because they own Brooklyn’s first-round draft pick this year. Boston had more immediate concerns, though, specifically a lackluster three-point loss to the Nets at home on Saturday. The Celtics seemed more determined and focused from the start Monday night.
Crowder scored 14 points in the first quarter as the Celtics forced the Nets into eight turnovers in the first quarter and held Lopez, newly named Eastern Conference player of the week, to two points in the period. During the second, they built the lead to 19.
Ultimately, the Nets’ story is more about trying to build some positive long-term mojo, one way or another. They might not be in the market for a point guard, but they could be shopping. The Boston Herald on Monday quoted an NBA executive saying, “You’re going to see [the Nets] start making moves . . . They’re already working.”