There was nothing Nick Collison could do to Brook Lopez except grab: clutch his shoulders, hug his arms, clench his chest. It was all in vain prevent him from getting a clean shot up, regardless of legality.
That was pretty much the modus operandi for all Thunder big men Sunday night, who couldn’t torture Lopez into anything but a monster 31-point, 10-rebound night en route to a shocking 116-106 victory at Barclays Center. The Thunder, sans starting center Steven Adams, threw Collison, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, and double-teams at Lopez, all without success. Thaddeus Young chipped in with 14 points and 14 rebounds himself, and the Nets out-rebounded the league’s best-rebounding team, 49-46.
“They kicked our ass all night,” Kevin Durant, who finished with a ho-hum 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists of his own, said after the game. “You know, rebounding the ball, scoring in the paint. They did what they wanted to. We’ve got to do a better job of helping the bigs out down there. Yeah, they kind of controlled the game out there, the bigs.”
What was most encouraging about Lopez’s scoring barrage was how multifarious it was despite coming almost exclusively in the paint. A shot chart for Lopez that looks like this might make you think he was just tossed the ball in the post for hook shots over and over again, and he just happened to deliver.
But that wasn’t the case at all. He tossed in hooks rolling to the basket after a screen. He isolated Collison 22 feet away and took him off the dribble, both to his right and to his left, with straight drives for layups and spin moves into soft jumpers. He tipped in missed shots and dunked others. He banged Enes Kanter in the post and used the threat of his jumper to slither inside.
He hit a shot from the side of the backboard!
With Lopez as the center fulcrum, the Nets balanced their attack around him. Seven players had multiple assists, and all seven of those players scored at least nine points. Lopez even got in on the passing party, notably dropping a pretty backdoor bounce pass to a cutting Shane Larkin for a layup. It’s not the first time Lopez has dropped that dime this season (though his success has varied), but it’s a pretty one that works with quick guards like Larkin.
“We were getting up and down the floor,” Lopez added. “We were pretty crisp running through our offense, and the ball was moving better. I mean, if you compare it to the other games, the ball was very stagnant and stuck on one side of the floor and that is something (interim head coach) Tony (Brown) has talked about a lot – just getting it from side to side and making the defense move.”
There’s a definite ceiling to Lopez’s effectiveness in the modern NBA, particularly when he’s creating the majority of his own offense. He’s not a quick defender, and his impeccable touch comes on already-difficult shots. He’d be best paired with a speedy pass-first pick-and-roll-heavy point guard who can feed him a steady diet of easy looks. But a night like Sunday, when his shots falling felt like kismet, was a reminder of just how lethal a scorer he is, and how effective the Nets offense can be when it spreads around him for open looks.
Quotes via the Brooklyn Nets.