The Brooklyn Nets showed up to TD Garden looking to take the season series from the Boston Celtics. The game was an interesting one for Brooklyn in that not only was it important for playoff seeding, but it was also an opportunity for the Nets to show that they are gaining some traction and consistency with just five games left in the regular season. In addition, it gave them an opportunity to beat an above .500 team on the road.
As of late, the Nets have struggled against playoff-bound squads: unable to piece together a complete performance against good teams. In fact, their last win vs. a playoff-bound team before tonight, came over a month ago in a 93-80 win over the Atlanta Hawks back on March 9th.
Tonight, though, was a different story. What began as a sloppy game from both teams, ended in what many would call “the Deron Williams show.” Williams, who was absolutely sensational, finished with 29 points, 12 assists while converting all 10 of his free throws. As Jerry Stackhouse noted after the game, "I think since the break, he's been as good as anybody playing. Not just point guards - anybody."
Since the All-star break, the scintillating Williams is averaging 22.5 PPG while shooting 48% from the field and 42.8% from three. Tonight, he was able to force Avery Bradley -- the player who many consider to be one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders -- to bench with foul trouble for most of the night. D-Will's bounce is back and if a player like Bradley is overmatched while trying to guard him, then likely every other player will be too.
What does this mean for the Nets? It means that the player they signed this summer to a $99 million contract is finally playing the way that they expected him to play: like the NBA’s best point guard. It also just so happens to come at the perfect time.
As was posted earlier Wednesday on The Brooklyn Game, the most likely scenario for the Nets come playoff time, is to end up playing either the Chicago Bulls or Atlanta Hawks in the first round of a 4-5 matchup with Brooklyn being the four seed and getting home court advantage. One thing is for sure though; the Nets’ “big three” of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez must carry them the rest of the way.
Rarely have we seen the Nets’ big three play the way they did against Boston: in unison and with chemistry and cohesion. The trio combined for a whopping 70 points on 25-47 (53%) shooting Wednesday night, hitting big shot after big shot to eventually ice the game and take the season series from the Celtics for the first time since the 05’-06’ season.
With Joe Johnson’s health fluctuating recently, it’s been difficult for he and Williams to get on the same page and have dual-efficient nights. The fact that Johnson, who has been hampered by a sore heal for the past few weeks, was not only able to take the court in the second game of a back-to-back, but was also able to pour in 20 on a super efficient shooting night, is a terrific sign for the Nets heading into the post-season. If they can get more games like Wednesday nights, where Williams, Lopez, and Johnson all have it clicking, they can certainly do some damage in the playoffs.
One rather frightening sign tonight was that of Gerald Wallace being carried to the Nets locker room by two teammates in the second quarter. Luckily though, it was reported that the injury -- a bruised left heal -- was nothing too serious and although he was forced by Deron Williams and Tim Walsh to wear a walking boot after the game, it was said that Wallace should be considered day-to-day.
As we know, the Nets like to be cautious with their injured players (especially the ones in the first year of a 4-year, $40 million contract). Perhaps for Wallace, the injury could give him a chance to rest before the playoffs and potentially gain some of that confidence back that he proclaimed was “totally gone.”
All in all, we may want to chalk this game up to “typical Nets basketball:” a.k.a. being consistently inconsistent. Maybe the Celtics aren’t a very good basketball team anymore without their point guard Rajon Rondo or maybe the Nets have finally turned the page in preparation for the post-season. Either way tonight was encouraging in the fact that it was played the way Brookyln Nets basketball should be played: let the big three carry the load while the role players fill their roles.
Brooklyn's next true test of consistency comes Friday night when they take on the Pacers of Indiana.