Over the past month, Brooklyn Nets coach Avery Johnson has done his best to temper expectations. One day at a time, he's said. One game won't change everything. It's a long season.
But after last night's game, Johnson finally appeared to change his tune, relenting on the idea that opening night was only one basketball game, and acknowledging its importance, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
"We're in Brooklyn now," Johnson said. "It's a big difference. You saw the crowd tonight, even under the circumstances. Not only was it a sellout, but they were into the game, they stood up for the starting lineup, they were chanting 'Brooklyn' all night.
"It's really special. I'm just honored to be a part of it. ... In some ways we tried to downplay it, but tonight meant a whole lot to a lot of people."
After the Nets fell behind eight points after the first quarter, Johnson switched to his bench mob, trotting out C.J. Watson, MarShon Brooks, Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche, and flanking them with starting shooting guard Joe Johnson. This lineup plugged the leak for seven wildly effective minutes, allowing just 1-8 shooting and forcing the Raptors into four turnovers as they slowly chipped away at the deficit.
Johnson praised his newfound depth. "They were valuable in different ways in different times," Johnson said. " C.J. carried us for a stretch in the first half. MarShon hit a couple of big buckets for us there in the fourth quarter. Blatche made a few buckets for us.
"Reggie Evans. He's all over the place on defense, and as you see," Johnson said in the understatement of the year, "he loves to rebound."
Johnson, who gives a game ball out to the team's most valuable player for every victory, gave tonight's to Williams without a second thought. It had little to do with his on-court performance.
"I don't care if Deron didn't score," Johnson crowed (note: Williams scored 19), "he was going to get the game ball. Because a lot of what's happening with this team is because he decided to re-sign."
Johnson also said he drew up the first play intentionally for Williams, wanting him to get the first bucket in Brooklyn Nets history. Williams did not know until the opening huddle.
The only other player who could've contended for last night's game ball was starting center Brook Lopez, who lead the team with 27 efficient points, got to the free throw line 15 times, and hit a big and-one at the rim to give the team a five-point lead with under a minute left. "He made some big shots for us, and not only that, he made some strong moves and got to the free throw line.
"Offensively, that's what we want," Johnson added, but also praised Lopez's newfound defensive energy. "He did a nice job trying to defend the basket tonight. He hard fouled, hard *legal* fouled tonight, which was probably the first one that I've seen in a long time. He contested some shots in the paint... he's a work in progress, like all of us."