|Starting 5 Score Big for Nets in Victory
By Ben Couch – NJNETS.com
December 30, 2009
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—This. This was the tease. The tantalizing taste of the future the Nets needed. That their fans did. That management will say is the reason there’s a big picture plan.
In a 104-95 victory against the Knicks at the IZOD Center on Wednesday, the NBA’s youngest starting lineup – just 23.2 years of age – all reached double-figures, led by 22 points from a surging Yi Jianlian (9-16 FGs). Brook Lopez was just behind at 21, adding 14 rebounds and four blocks, followed by Devin Harris and Chris Douglas-Roberts (17 each) and Courtney Lee (10). Each hoisted at least 12 shots, none firing more than 16.
”What I saw out there tonight was five guys – whoever was on the court – playing together, rooting for each other, enjoying what they did,” said Nets coach and GM Kiki Vandeweghe. “And that, to me, is the essence of basketball. This is something to build on. We realize it’s one game, but we’ve played well for a few games in a row now, we just hadn’t gotten a victory. We needed to break through, and we’ve got to remember what got us that breakthrough.”
It was because of plays like this: late in the first half, Lopez began a post move, solidly sealing David Lee as he crossed the paint from left-to-right. But the Knicks’ center stayed with it, bodies banged and the ball popped loose as Lopez crashed to the IZOD Center court. The referees’ whistles went unblown.
A game ago, maybe frustration keeps Lopez stuck to the floor for a second longer, and he’s jogging back on D as the Knicks settle into their halfcourt set. Instead, Lopez collected himself quickly and marked an uncovered man in transition, closing in on Al Harrington as the Knicks’ forward crossed halfcourt.
Sticking out an arm as he approached, Lopez knocked the ball loose, diving after it into the stands. He saved the ball to Harris, and the Nets’ point guard forwarded the pass to Douglas-Roberts, who finished the play with a two-handed dunk, nary a Knick in sight as he extended the lead to 10 points.
Douglas-Roberts deemed it “a (heckuva) play,” and an encouraging example for the non-7-foot set. Harris noted that transition defense had been a point of emphasis in practice, and Lopez opted to call himself “ultra-stealth.”
“What can I say?” the center asked rhetorically. “I’ve never been in the situation before – that’s why you’ve never seen it.”
It was a jarring sight, seeing a big man lay himself out like that. Almost as unfamiliar as looking at seven players suited up on the Nets bench for the first time in two months. More comforting was four quarters of top-tier post play from the 21-year-old, who had struggled for much of the previous three games.
Lopez’s 21-14 double-double was 14th “20-10” double-double and 18th overall in 32 games. Defensively, he altered shots throughout, and even made perhaps the game’s most crucial stop, a block of Lee’s driving layup with 3 ½ minutes remaining. With the Nets’ offense stagnating – two points in three minutes – Lee flew in for a right-handed toss that would have cut the lead to nine, but Lopez stayed square and packed the shot. Harris recovered it in a scramble and called timeout to secure the possession.
They missed a jumper at the other end, as well as the two to follow, but forced a pair of Knick misses as well, burning another two minutes off the clock. Though the Knicks closed within eight three times in the final 60 seconds, the Nets did just enough to hold them off, sealing the win when Harris hit a pair of free throws 23 seconds from the finish.
“It’s good to get guys back in uniform,” Harris said. “It’s good to have all of our weapons back and everybody’s playing together. But I thought our big guys did a good job of controlling the paint tonight. I thought Brook was a definite force inside, especially after the game he had last time. I knew he was a little bit upset. But he came back and played like we needed him to play.”