NETS Go to London, & Gaines Gains Most
March 4th, 2011
LONDON—Brook Lopez scored 25 points to lead the Nets to an historic 116-103 win against the Raptors Friday night at London's 02 Arena, the NBA's first regular season game played in Europe. The win also ended a six-game losing streak for the Nets. Deron Williams added 16 points and 11 assists, the All-Star guard's fourth straight double-double since joining the Nets in a trade last week.
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NETS Go to London, & Gaines Gains Most
In front of a sellout crowd of more than 18,000 fans at London’s O2 Arena on Sunday, one that thoroughly enjoyed its first experience with regular-season NBA basketball – even while indiscriminately booing and cheering at random in-game occurrences – the player probably least known to anyone in the audience proved one with the most potent impact.
Just-signed guard Sundiata Gaines, playing for his third team this season and fourth in two years, pressed into action after Anthony Morrow was knocked out of the game with a head injury and Deron Williams picked up a fourth foul, totaled seven points (3-3 FGs) and two assists – all but a steal in the fourth quarter – serving as the driving force for a game-separating run that positioned the Nets to beat the Raptors, 116-103.
“I think it’s just me being a testament to working hard and being ready whenever my name is called,” Gaines said. “I had a couple practices already, so I felt pretty comfortable out there. I just tried to play my shot if it was open, and if not, pass it to my teammates; whatever the defense gave me, I tried to play off.”
Gaines’ impressive bench performance, one that could impact his odds of earning a second 10-day contract, were enabled by strong games from starters Brook Lopez (25 points, 3 blocks), Kris Humphries (18 points, 17 rebounds, 4 blocks) and Williams (16 points, 11 assists).
The double-double was Williams’ fourth in as many games as a Net; he continues to pile up assists while compensating for injuries to his right wrist (strained tendon) and left hand (bone bruise). Despite admitted difficulty shooting, Williams posted his best performance from the field to date, sinking 7-of-15 attempts, including a three in the final minutes that helped seal the victory.
Spurred by the run Gaines finished – Jordan Farmar hit back-to-back three-pointers to open the fourth, in his quick return from an ankle sprain – the Nets were able to pull away from the Raptors, finally earning committed praise from fans whom had proved enthusiastic, though fickle.
“These are home games for us,” said Nets coach Avery Johnson. “I know we had to travel thousands and thousands of miles to get here, but these are home games for us, and I thought the crowd was outstanding. They got here early, they cheered – for both teams – but this is another home game for us, and we’ve got to come out and play better and longer than we did tonight. But for a team that’s had trouble scoring, when you get 116 points, we’ve got to find a way to win that game. And we did.”
The players all found themselves bolstered by the sellout, praising the league for a successful marketing effort and providing them with a worthy stage. That in mind, it’s perhaps no surprise that Gaines rose to the occasion: after signing a second 10-day contract with the Utah Jazz last season, Gaines hit a game-winning three-pointer to defeat the then-formidable Cleveland Cavaliers.
For Morrow, who was diagnosed with a slight concussion and will sit out Saturday, it was more of the same thing he’s seen from Gaines in six years of competition. The pair matched up a few times during Georgia/Georgia Tech games in college, and then again last season when the Jazz faced Morrow’s former team in Golden State.
“He’s just so comfortable, man,” Morrow said. “He got great time and great minutes in Utah. He played in a tough system there, for a tough coach, Jerry Sloan. He made it there, and he came here, he has the same mentality. He’s just relaxed, playing his game: he made some jump shots, he made some key passes, he just did what he does.”
Prokhorov Pokes Fun During Panel
Before the game, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov participated in a panel with NBA Deputy Comissioner & COO Adam Silver, AEG President Tim Leiweke and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Chairman Larry Tanenbaum. The quartet spoke about the globalization of the NBA, particularly in light of the four years of preseason sellouts during the NBA Europe Live tour and this weekend’s additional packed houses.
At one point, Prokhorov interjected with an anecdote about how the NBA might make inroads against soccer in Europe, telling the tale of a time his girlfriend asked why basketball was better. He claimed to have quipped, “I think basketball is better than football (soccer) because my team, for sure, will have some scores during the match.”
Prokhorov said he believes basketball to rank No. 2 globally, a view echoed by Silver, who feels it is gaining on soccer and that there exists ample for both. Debate between sports aside, Leiweke spoke of how one key to further expanding the NBA’s overseas presence was not only the creation of NBA-quality arenas, but finding an economic model that made them feasible.
“We had an unbelievable run of it with the preseason games in the NBA, we have the ATP Finals here every year – sponsored by Barclays – and some of the best events in the world are here. Some of the largest concerts are here. In fact, this is the largest-grossing music facility in the world, twice as big as places like the Garden.
“And so we clearly have an economic model that can work for the league long-term, but we’re going to need six or eight of these in the right markets; we’re working on that. We certainly think that markets like Paris, Berlin and London can host these games on a regular basis, but you need places to play above and beyond one or two.”
Silver said the league viewed social networking as a key element:
“We as a league have enormous popularity, whether it’s YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. We’re seeing, even outside the United States, that kids especially and young adults are part of this NBA community. And we think, by bringing the very best in the world here through the Olympic competition, that will even continue to grow basketball to yet another level.”
Morrow, on the head injury:
“I’m probably not playing tomorrow. I’m not sure – I’ve never had a concussion before, but luckily it’s only a slight concussion, according to the doctor. I think it’s something I just need to rest up and heal full.”
Kris Humphries, on his huge stat line:
“You get a feeling, but to me, it’s not about that, it’s about winning. I’d have been happy sitting out the rest of the game if we would get the win. Our second unit played great and just came in and finished the game.”