The truly concerning aspect was Steve Nash’s tone.
He was not screaming. He did not rant. He was not raving. Rather, he spoke matter of factly. Calmly. Rationally.
“I do not know the answer to that,” Nash said in response to a question about the Nets maintaining a consistent defensive edge afte Tuesday night’s 130-123 win over the Pistons.
Those eight words would be concerning at any point in a season. With six games remaining before the playoffs, they are alarming for a team that has championship aspirations.
More troubling was his team’s performance.
Against a team that is preparing for the Draft Lottery, the Nets were burned for 48% shooting from the field (48-for-100) and 42.1% from three (16-for-38). Cade Cunningham, the first overall pick in the 2021 draft, tied a career high with 34 points and shot 13-for-24, including five threes.
Although the Oklahoma State product is a foundational piece for the rebuilding franchise, the Pistons were not a one-man team.
Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey finished with 15 points apiece. Killian Hayes had 13 off the bench, and Marvin Bagley III and Frank Jackson both added 11. All of which earned Kevin Durant’s praise before the MVP candidate philosophized about the benefit of being challenged by an opponent less than two weeks from the start of the playoffs
“[They] got pros over there,” Durant said. “They made shots . . . It’s good for us to go through periods like that because there’s going to be times in the playoffs [when teams] get hot unexpectedly and see how we weather the storm. So it’s a good test for us and I like it no matter if we’re playing the Pistons or Milwaukee Bucks.”
And while there is a value in responding to a challenge, the reality is that the Nets entered Wednesday ranked 20th in the NBA with 112.1 points allowed per game. And with one game remaining this month, the Nets have allowed an average of 113.3 points in 14 games.
“That’s something we have to work on,” Andre Drummond said. “We have to play a complete game [because] it’s not always going to be that easy to make that [kind of] turnaround against great teams. Not that the Pistons aren’t a great team; they played a hell of a game and we just turned it up in the second half and we can’t play like that. We have to do that throughout the whole game.”
And where does that begin?
To hear Nash, the responsibility lies with the players challenging each other to improve their defensive approach.
Kyrie Irving, among others, agrees.
“[Nash is] right in terms of the edge and playing with that consistently,” Irving said. “We’re going to have to make our staple as a team on the defensive end because if we’re going back and forth in a shooting contest, obviously we’ll still be in the game. But sometimes those games could be back and forth and lead to mistakes on our end. We don’t want to put our heads down in games, but we just have to make it our emphasis on the defensive end.”