(December 10, 2013)
BROOKLYN—They didn’t panic when the losses mounted and boos reigned down on them in Barclays Center.
So the Nets weren’t about to pop champagne bottles Tuesday night after beating the Boston Celtics, 104-96, to post their first back-to-back wins of the season.
“November was a [expletive] year for us,’’ said forward Kevin Garnett. “A [expletive] month.’’
“But I feel like we’re making some strides. You can actually see the improvement in our team. Obviously it’s only two games … but we’re trying to build on the momentum that we have, and continue to play good basketball.”
Let’s talk about the improvements because there were a lot of them.
Improvement No.1: The Nets resembled a healthy, whole basketball team.
Deron Williams, who missed the last nine games after re-spraining his left ankle, returned with an All-Star caliber performance, scoring a season-high and game-high 25 points, giving out seven assists and meeting Boston’s Avery Bradley’s aggressive style with an attack of his own.
When asked if he expected to have such a impressive performance after missing so much time, Williams acknowledged he surprised himself.
“I felt good enough to play but I wasn’t really sure,’’ said Williams.
Now we need to see how Williams responds for Thursday night’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers and Chris Paul.
Paul Pierce, who has missed the last five games with a broken bone in his right hand on Nov. 29, returned. He didn’t start and had to wear a black protective glove on the hand but Pierce.
Pierce, 36, grabbed seven rebounds, scored four points and had three assists in 22 minutes. Kidd said he likes working Pierce with the second team and will evaluate how to use Pierce going forward but it’s hard to imagine him not returning to the starting lineup soon.
“It was a little uncomfortable,’’ Pierce said of the glove. “I just got it [Tuesday] in the mail. As I spend more time with it, get to know it, take it out to the movies, I don’t know, go to dinner with it, get to know each other and become comfortable with each other and then we can hit a home run together.’’
Andrei Kirilenko (back spasms) and Jason Terry (left knee) remain unavailable. Imagine the possibilities if those two can return and play significant minutes.
Improvement No.2: The Nets took a 56-47 lead into the third quarter and proceeded to suffer what appeared to be another meltdown as Boston went on a 13-4 run to tie the game. Kidd called a timeout.
Call it a moment of truth for the Nets. They responded by surging to a 74-64 lead. Crisis averted. Pattern broken.
“We responded,’’ said center Brook Lopez. “Bottom line is we responded and that’s the first time we’ve done that in a while this season.’’
Kidd’s course of funneling the offense through Lopez, who had 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting, worked again.
Lopez scored 32 points on 11-of-13 shooting in the win over Milwaukee. He’s had favorable matchups in both games but he and Nets have taken advantage of it.
In the two games the Nets have outscored the opposition, 92-60 in the paint. Garnett’s 17 points and 17 rebounds in those games should not be discounted.
“We feel that Brook is the hub,” said Kidd. “We feel we can post Brook, but we also can post Joe [Johnson], [Garnett] and Deron, and so we looked at doing that as much as possible, knowing we have guys who can knock down shots and make cuts. Brook has handled the double-team really well, and he’s getting better.”
So are the Nets. They improved to 7-14 on the season. Despite the November that KG described, they are just two games behind the Celtics (10-13) for first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Clippers will be a much sterner test, although they will be playing the second game of a back-to-back and the sixth game of a seven-game road swing.
“I think we understand that we maybe have not won enough games that the public might think we should have, or those guys in the locker room feel that we probably should have won some games that we let get away,’’ said Kidd.
“But it’s a long season. No one’s panicked. Everybody’s come to work every day to get better. That’s what a veteran group does and that’s what that group does in there.’’