The Nets Can Hang
The Brooklyn Nets made a statement Friday night in front of a sellout crowd at the Barclays Center, taking down the Bulls 93-89 despite some lackluster performances from their starters. With the victory, the Nets improved to 28-19, but more importantly they picked up a much-needed win against a team over .500.
Brooklyn came into this contest just 7-16 against teams with a winning record, and had lost 3 of their last 4 to those squads. One of those was a brutal 105-85 shellacking at the hands of the Miami Heat just 72 hours prior. Another was a deflating 101-77 loss to the Grizzlies January 25th. Even though the Bulls were missing Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, and Carlos Boozer for this one, optimism wasn’t sky high. The defense of the Bulls would prove to make up for the losses of their key contributors, but Gerald Wallace, Andray Blatche, and even Reggie Evans were able to overpower Chicago’s attack.
Deron Williams and Joe Johnson weren’t the ones to lead the Brooklyn charge down the stretch; it was the bench players they relied on. MarShon Brooks, who was seemingly becoming an afterthought to PJ Carlisemo, dropped 13 points and dished out three gorgeous assists, two of which went to Andray Blatche, who had a monstrous fourth quarter. He scored 9 of his 11 points in the final session, and tacked on three assists, three rebounds, and a block. It was an example of just how deep this Nets team is, and how much size they bring to the table. Said Joe Johnson, “MarShon [Brooks] and [Andray] Blatche carried us in that fourth quarter.”
When Brooklyn inked Johnson in the offseason, no one expected he’d be talking up the 4th quarter brilliance of MarShon Brooks. Many had visions of three after three dropping for the six-time All-Star. Instead, Brooks repeatedly brought the Barclays Center to their feet with his energy and scoring ability. He made clear after the game that he tried to be aggressive and decisive, two qualities many Nets need.
Deron Williams needs the killer instinct MarShon Brooks and Andray Blatche possessed Friday night. Once again, he stepped aside as his supporting cast fought off the pesky Bulls. His 4-12 shooting performance was so pedestrian, I wasn’t too concerned when he went down late in the 2nd quarter with an ankle injury (he would return). There’s something off with his game, but tonight showed that the Nets can succeed in spite of that. If Williams returns to how he played back in Utah, the Nets could have the kind of success they had against Chicago again.
Brooklyn’s win has the potential to turn around their season, because they were finally able to stand up to a tough opponent. Just ask any of the players – it didn’t come easy even though the Bulls were without a lot of their talent. MarShon Brooks noted, “They’re just real physical, no matter who plays.”
Lost in the success of Brooks on the evening was once again the coaching of PJ Carlisemo, who stuck with who had the hot hand. Brook Lopez was sitting on the bench late in the fourth in favor of Andray Blatche, something he actually said was fun. Carlisemo, at 14-5, now has the second-best start of any coach in franchise history. He’s doing all the right things, and so are the Nets’ role players.
This team is deeper than people think and capable of bringing down just about anyone in the Eastern Conference, maybe with the exception of Miami. With more games like this, Brooklyn will have the confidence and swagger needed to run deep into the playoffs. Then again, it’s way too early to be thinking about that. Heck, Deron Williams said it was too early to be thinking of the Lakers coming to town on Tuesday.