The Brooklyn Nets continue to play inspired basketball since the firing of Avery Johnson. After having 3 straight 20+ point wins, which set a franchise mark, the Nets had a taller order against the 3rd best team in the East, the Indiana Pacers. Yet a strong second half, especially in the 4th, saw the Nets stretch their win streak to a season-high 6 games. Meanwhile, they have vaulted to the 4th-best record in the East, and are now just two games shy of the Knicks for first place, one week before a crucial final meeting with the Knicks next Monday.
Deron Williams led the way with 22 points and 9 assists, Joe Johnson sunk 20 points, and Brook Lopez added 15. But the story of this game was probably the fact that Brooklyn held one of the East’s most high-powered offenses to just 11 4th-quarter points. After having been dominated for much of the game, somehow the Nets battled back defensively. This game was pretty even offensively, with 12 fast break points, and 30 points in the paint, for each team. Bench points were in slight favor of the Nets (30-25), and turnovers went the Pacers way (9 to the Nets’ 12).
That’s why the game would come down to who played better defensively down the stretch. Brooklyn would race out to a 27-21 advantage after the first quarter, but find themselves trailing by 3 at the half. At one point in the third quarter, the Nets found themselves trailing by double digits, 67-55. From there the Nets would go on a run, outscoring the Pacers 42-19 down the stretch, and win the game.
The run was started by Joe Johnson, who would hit a 3 to cut it to 67-58, and then after both teams traded buckets, Johnson would get fouled in 3-point territory, and hit all three free throws, cutting it to 69-63. The teams would trade points, and it would remian a 6-point Indiana advantage entering the 4th. The Pacers would open the scoring in the 4th, ballooning the lead to 77-69 with just under 11 minutes remaining. But from then on out, it was all Brooklyn, as they’d put together a 17-0 run over the next 4:16 to take the lead for good.
After a pair of Andray Blatche free throws, Brook Lopez hit back-to-back shots, cuttign the deficit to 77-75. After a Pacers’ missed shot, Joe Johnson would hit another 3, giving Brooklyn a 78-77 advantage, a lead they’d never relinquish. After more free throws by the Nets extended their lead to 83-77, Lopez would hit another mid-range jumper, and D-Will would add a free throw to cap the run, and give the Nets an 86-77 advantage. Indiana would cut it to 5, but a final Joe Johnson 3 would make it 93-83 with 3;17 left, all but sealing Indiana’s fate.
This win has the Nets now 8-1 under P.J. Carlesimo, and things might only get easier for the Nets from here. They are starting to play well on all sides of the ball, averaging over 109 PPG since the Carlesimo takeover, and over their past 4 games, holding opponents to 86.8 PPG. With a somewhat soft schedule upcoming, including 2 games against now struggling Atlanta, and the season finale against the semi-struggling Knicks, the Nets can continue to surge up the Eastern Conference standings. But before getting ahead of ourselves, they will have to face a Toronto team that has won 10 of its last 14. That Knicks game also marks the beginning of a 4-game road trip, with the back half of that road trip being against some stiff Western Conference competition.
The next 5 for the Nets are all winnable games, as long as Atlanta and New York continue to struggle:
1/15 vs Toronto
1/16 @ Atlanta
1/18 vs Atlanta
1/21 @ New York
1/23 @ Minnesota
The Brooklyn Nets could be on the verge of a huge run if they can sustain their momentum. The only undefeated NBA team in 2013 looks to stay that way, at least for awhile. Here’s to hoping they can.