The Brooklyn Nets played a basketball game last night, though given how everyone (read: us too) is covering it, you might’ve thought that the Nets were hosting a Jason Collins-athon in Los Angeles. But no, there was real basketball along with an historic social barrier broken. So here’s five takeaways from the game that had nothing to do with Jason Collins.
1) The Nets, you know, won. The Nets beat a downtrodden Los Angeles Lakers team 108-102. That Lakers team started Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks, Kent Bazemore, Wesley Johnson, and Pau Gasol, their league-highest 18th starting lineup. The Lakers now have the worst record in the Western Conference, but a win is a win, and they led wire to wire on the second half of a back-to-back without Shaun Livingston and Kevin Garnett. (And, for that matter, Marcus Thornton.)
2) Deron Williams had his best game of the season. Williams dominated the likes of inferior defenders Kendall Marshall and Jordan Farmar, cruising to a season-high 30 points with a variety of crossovers and layups. He’s attacking again, eight of his sixteen attempts from within five feet of the basket, and he also went to the line 13 times. Williams won as a starter against the Lakers in Staples Center for the first time in his career, having lost his first 19 games.
He’s also killing it from midrange. Yes, the midrange shot is one of the most boring facets of basketball, and it’s used all-too-often by traditionalists as the marker of the game they used to watch 30 years ago that was so much more about the fundamentals and not this silly dunking and three-point shooting circus you’ve got going on now, but an effective midrange game isn’t useless, and Williams is killing it. He’s shooting 49.2 percent on “midrange” looks per NBA.com, only bested by Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry, and Courtney Lee.
Williams’s final statline? 30 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and six steals, the first player to hit those numbers in a Nets uniform since Derrick Coleman on April 15, 1993.
3) Paul Pierce led the charge early. Pierce said earlier in the season that his shots have come as the product of excellent ball movement. From the perimeter, that’s true. He’s getting wide-open looks when the team swings the ball, and he hit three of them in rapid succession in the first quarter Sunday night. But he was also getting to the rim around a porous Lakers defense, dipping and diving into the lane like it was a cone drill.
4) Andrei Kirilenko works in the starting lineup… kind of. First, I’d like to reiterate this craziness: 6’9″ small forward Andrei Kirilenko replaced 6’7″ point guard Shaun Livingston (fighting a bruised tailbone) in the Nets starting lineup, after Livingston had replaced 7’2″ center Brook Lopez six weeks earlier. That’s just an incredible amount of versatility the Nets have.
Kirilenko looked solid in the Nets lineup in his usual box-score-stuffing ways, putting up a sneaky double-double with 10 points and a team-high 10 rebounds (though that speaks more to Brooklyn’s poor rebounding than Kirilenko’s frantic chase-them-all-down methods), adding four steals and three assists. Even his missed three pointer cruelly popped out after rimming halfway down. There’s tantalizing potential in a lineup featuring Kirilenko and Garnett, but that’d likely relegate Shaun Livingston to the bench, who’s been playing at a high level in the starting lineup.
5) Andray Blatche is as good as his offense. It’s evident that the Nets struggle to defend the interior with Blatche on the floor. Though he has some good moments, they tend to falter as the quarters roll on, and his lackluster performance inside late in Sunday night’s game brought the Lakers within striking distance. His defense is normally excusable considering his ability to put points on the board, but he shot 2-10 against the Lakers and didn’t ever look comfortable on the offensive end. It only bolstered the thought that the Nets need help defending on the inside, which led them to sign…
Whoops. Almost said it. Sorry, guys.