It was Feb. 9 in Detroit, and the 14-12 Nets had just given in to their season-worst third straight loss against an inferior Pistons team they basically allowed to run up and down the floor at will. It was embarrassing, coach Steve Nash told his players it couldn’t be any fun to play that way, and veteran Jeff Green called out his teammates in a postgame locker room meeting, asking how long they were going to keep making the same mistakes.
"To be honest, I forgot what I said," Green said following practice on Friday. "But I think we all had the same mentality. We weren’t playing as well as we should have been playing, and I just voiced my opinion. We all listened, we all said our piece, and we made changes. And it was changes for the good."
That moment was the clear turning point for the Nets (25-13). They have gone 11-1 in the month since that game to become the hottest team in the NBA as they prepare for a rematch with the Pistons (10-27) Saturday night at Barclays Center. Since then, they actually have signed the Pistons’ best player, Blake Griffin, who negotiated a buyout before taking the veterans’ minimum to join the Nets. Griffin will not face his former team because he hasn’t played for a month and is in the process of regaining game condition.
But the Nets won their first game coming out of the All-Star break, snapping a four-game Celtics winning streak, and they are intent on maintaining the momentum they have built since that fateful Pistons loss.
Recalling what changed in the aftermath of that game, Green said, "I think it was just more awareness of what we needed to do to become who we wanted to become. They exposed us a lot, and it opened our eyes to what we needed to accomplish on the court and what we needed to get down as a unit in order to just stop losing to the teams we should beat. That was a game that turned the tide for us and allowed us to get it going, but [Saturday night] is going to be interesting. Their personnel is a little bit different. Obviously, Blake is not there, he’s here. But we owe them one."
That Detroit loss was significant to another former Piston Bruce Brown, who was acquired by the Nets in an offseason trade. He led the Nets that night with nine rebounds and added eight points and was one of the few Nets making a major effort on the defensive end.
"It definitely [ticked] us off," Brown said. "We thought we dropped a game we should have won for sure. But we’re going to lock into this game and try to give it everything we’ve got."
Asked to explain the biggest difference in the Nets since that horrible performance, Brown said, "I think we just came together. We talked after that game, talked about a lot, went over a lot in practice, the defensive rotations and what we’ve got to do offensively."
There is no doubt about the Nets’ improvement since that loss to the Pistons on Feb. 9. They rank 26th on defense with 115.9 points allowed per game and rank first in the NBA on offense (121.1). But over the past 12 games, their defense has allowed 110.6 points per game. So their winning margin has doubled.
"Our group has been outstanding in that respect since that Detroit game," Nash said of the defensive commitment. "You have to be grateful for the space we’re in, the effort and energy, collective kind of spirit we’ve put together here. Just continue that. Keep that feeling. Keep that environment going, and we’ll continue to improve."