NEW YORK – Some guys just know how to celebrate.
Brook Lopez, on his 27th birthday, put back a missed Deron Williams’ shot, and his own missed offensive rebound putback, to beat the Knicks, 100-98, Wednesday night at the Garden and keep the Brooklyn Nets’ playoff push surging forward.
The Nets blew a 16-point lead and couldn’t exhale until Cleanthony Early’s three-pointer fell short as time expired. Lopez, the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, had a solid night statistically – 18 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots – saving his biggest moments for when the lights were brightest.
On the final Nets’ possession, Williams drove right and lofted a short shot. Lopez’s first follow, from the left side of the basket, was too strong. He grabbed the rebound on the right side and laid it in with two seconds left.
The win extended the Nets’ longest winning streak of the season to five games. It was their ninth win in 11 games.
“Always good to beat the Knicks,” said Lopez. “It’s a good birthday present.”
The win moves the Nets (34-40) into a tie with the Miami Heat (34-40) for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Celtics (34-41) are a half game back.
KEY PLAY: The Knicks had come all the way back from a 16-point deficit to tie the score at 98-98 on Quincy Acy’s three-pointer. They had the ball and a chance to take their first lead but Thaddeus Young stripped Cleanthony Early as he was going up for a four-footer with 21 seconds left.
KEY PLAY II: The high pick-and-roll has become the Nets’ bread-and-butter play since the All-Star break. Williams came off a Lopez screen and changed directions twice before driving and lofting a four-footer from the right side. Lopez then went to work on the glass.
NETS GAINS: Markel Brown took another step in his maturation. After posting a career-high 17 points in the Nets’ win over the Lakers on Sunday, Brown scored 10 points in Tuesday night’s win over the Pacers and 14 in Wednesday night’s win over the Knicks. It marks the first time this season he’s scored in double figures in three straight games.
NETS GAINS II: Just as he got the Nets going in a 123-111 win over the Pacers in Indiana on March 21, a win that followed a triple-overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, Williams again gave the Nets a boost in the second game of a back-to-back. He finished with a game-high 26 points on 11-of-21 shooting, adding seven rebounds and seven assists.
KEY STAT: NBA officials might consider measuring the three-point line in The Garden. The Nets made 9 of 16 from behind the arc. The Knicks were 11 of 23.
TALK: “I know they would have loved to spoil us tonight and beat us but we got the win,” said Coach Lionel Hollins, knowing the Knicks were looking to damage the Nets’ playoff chances. “And whether it was one point or two points, that’s all that matters.”