Nets' slow start costs them dearly in Game 1Posted: Thursday June 06, 2002 12:20 AM
Updated: Thursday June 06, 2002 4:06 AM
That cost them dearly Wednesday night, and so did their 15-of-26 free-throw shooting in a 99-94 loss to the two-time defending champions.
"Maybe we were a little bit too excited to be here," center Todd MacCulloch said after the Nets gave away the opener in the best-of-seven series. "We weren't executing our offense the way we were. We just needed a while to calm down.
"Unfortunately, it took us too long," he added. "It didn't get through our heads in the first couple of minutes when it needed to."
If there was a positive for the Nets looking to Game 2 on Friday night, it was the heart they showed after falling behind by 23 points midway through the second quarter.
Once Jason Kidd and his teammates got their bearings at Staples Center, they showed they could play with the Lakers.
The Nets, who finished 37-of-94 (39.4 percent) from the field, cut their deficit to 12 at halftime, four in the third quarter and three a couple of times in the fourth.
"I give my guys a lot of credit," said Kidd, who had 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in recording his fourth triple-double of the playoffs and the first in the Finals since Charles Barkley did it in 1993. "We could have folded our tents, gone back to the marina and waited for Game 2."
The Nets fought and made the Lakers fight to win.
If they had just hit a couple of more free throws, who knows?
"You can't dig yourself a hole, get down by 19 or 20 points and expect to win," Nets guard Lucious Harris said. "We just dug ourselves a hole against the champions."
The real problem for New Jersey was the start.
"It was a disaster," Harris said.
And it was surprising.
In beating the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, the Nets opened big first-quarter leads in almost every game in advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time since joining the league in 1976.
Against the Lakers, the Nets looked more like one of those bumbling teams that made New Jersey a league laughingstock for so many seasons.
The Nets missed 16 of 22 shots and were outrebounded 17-10 in falling behind 29-14 in the opening quarter. The smooth, uptempo offense never got going, as they settled mostly for contested jumpers in falling behind by as much as 42-19.
"With the situation and the hype around us, I think we calmed ourselves down too much," Nets forward Keith Van Horn said. "Instead of letting that nervousness work toward aggression, we went in the opposite way. We know what we need to do. If we rebound the ball, come out much better and shoot our free throws we'll be in better shape on Friday."
Kenyon Martin had 21 points as New Jersey put only four players in double figures. In victories, the Nets usually have as many as six players score at least 10 points.
"We knew we could play with these guys," rookie Richard Jefferson said. "We just didn't come out aggressive. They got off to a good lead, we came back and we fell a little short. We just have to move on to Game 2."
The Lakers had as many field goals -- nine -- as the Nets had shots in the opening quarter, sparking chants of "three-peat" from the celebrity-studded crowd.
"This is the biggest stage in basketball, so you are going to have some jitters," Nets coach Byron Scott said.
The Nets can't afford to have them any more.