Brook Lopez gives himself the best birthday gift: a Nets win

Most of his teammates said they’d get him a comic book. Alan Anderson joked that he’d get him a Michigan State Spartans hat. But Brook Lopez got himself — and the Nets — a much better birthday gift.

“Great win,” Lopez said at his locker, shortly after hitting the game-winning shot on an offensive rebound, beating the cross-town New York Knicks 100-98 on his 27th birthday. “Always good beating the Knicks.”

“It’s a good birthday present. … I’ll be selfish and give myself a present.”

It ended what was another roller-coaster game for the Nets: the team squandered a 14-point lead in the first half and later a 16-point lead in the third quarter, and the teams were tied 98-98 with just 14 seconds left. But after Deron Williams missed a look at the basket, Lopez tipped the ball up twice, beating two Knicks defenders and getting a shot to fall with two seconds left to give the Nets the lead. A long, contested three-pointer by Cleanthony Early fell well short to end the game, clinching the first Nets-over-Knicks season sweep since the 2006-2007 season.

“I wanted to lob it to Brook at first, and then they kind of backed up, and so I got a shot off, and it rimmed out, and Brook was right there to put it back,” Williams said after the game.

It was the epitome of something Lopez has improved substantially in 22 games since the All-Star break: he’s averaged four offensive rebounds per game and 14.2 per 100 possessions, well above his career average and fifth in the NBA among players who have played at least 15 games and 25 minutes per game. Lopez finished with three offensive rebounds tonight, needing two on that final play.

“D-Will got a great look, he was aggressive like he had been all night, so it was right there around the rim and I just tried to keep it alive and put it back in,” Lopez added. He finished the game with 18 points (9-15 FG), seven rebounds, and five blocked shots.

The up-and-down nature of the game coincided with the team’s rotations. Lopez and Williams had a plus-minus of +18 and +26, respectively; though plus-minus in any individual game can be subject to a not of random noise, it was clear the team played better when the two shared the floor. Williams was notably aggressive from the start, putting in 18 first-half points and finishing with 26 (11-21), adding seven assists. Lopez threw in easy floaters off pick-and-roll plays with Williams, and put in a big shot with 78 seconds left, an aggressive drive to the basket with a finish through contact.

“Deron carried us tonight,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “This is the second back-to-back set that he’s come out and set the tone offensively, which has helped get us off to a good start.”

But the bench left much to be desired. When one or both of Williams & Lopez left the floor, the Nets were subject to hot Knicks shooting: New York hit just 32.6 percent of their shots with Lopez & Williams on the court, and 63 percent of their shots otherwise. Every member of the Nets starting lineup had a positive plus-minus; every member of the bench had a negative one. Again: those numbers are not always reflective, but tonight, it wasn’t hard to see how much better the team was with their starters in the game.

The win keeps the Nets afloat as they fight for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. At 34-40, they remain a half-game ahead of the Boston Celtics, and tied the Miami Heat for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. They’re also 9-2 in their last 11 games, despite only outscoring their opponents by a total of 19 points in those games (1.7 points per game). On a related note, they’re 10-1 in games decided by three or fewer points.

In a game the Nets should’ve never given away, Thaddeus Young summed it up best, with what’s become a Nets refrain this season: “A win is a win.”

More notes:

  • Markel Brown took a scary fall early in the first quarter, getting flipped on an alley-oop attempt from Thaddeus Young and landing hard, hitting his face on the floor. The Nets called a time-out as Brown laid on the ground, trying to shake off the cobwebs. Brown did stay in the game, and appeared to show no ill effects, hitting both free throws.
  • I’ve never heard an NBA crowd as quiet as it was early in Wednesday night’s game in my entire life. The Nets have had their share of quiet crowds before: Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Lakers sounded more like a golf tournament than an NBA game. But there was an eerie silence in Madison Square Garden during game action; Madison Square Garden played very little in-game music, and when it stopped, it felt like sitting in a creepy library. The crowd got louder as the game drew closer, and a solid “Let’s go Knicks!” chant rung through the arena near the end, but it felt more silent the whole game.
  • Sometimes it’s complicated, and sometimes it’s +26 for Deron Williams and -14 for Jarrett Jack.
  • Mason Plumlee: not a post-up player.
  • Madison Square Garden ran perhaps the oddest between-quarter fan segment I’ve ever seen. They gave a guy (let’s call him Guy 1) a choice to shoot a free throw to win $10,000, or he could “pass” on the free throw and make another guy (Guy 2) shoot it. If Guy 2 missed the free throw, Guy 1 would win $10,000, and if Guy 2 made it, he (Guy 2) would win the $10,000.

    Naturally, Guy 1 “passed,” and Guy 2 missed the free throw — but only after getting what looked like a push to the stomach as he was shooting by the arena emcee! It was all very strange, and not an April Fool’s joke.