BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Before Friday night’s home opener, Deron Williams casually made a bold statement: he, and his team, felt that they were better than the defending champion Miami Heat. It’s a statement easily met with ridicule; this is the Miami Heat, after all, of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, of back-to-back championships.
The road to the title goes through Miami, and Brooklyn took its first steps down that path, beating the defending champions 101-100 in their home opener at Barclays Center in Brooklyn Friday night. Everyone had their role, and the team withstood a late barrage from the Heat to hold on to the slim victory.
“Determination,” Kevin Garnett said of the win. “I think we wanted this a little more. No disrespect to the champs and what they’re trying to accomplish this year, but we knew playing at home, coming from Cleveland that we would play better.”
For all the questions about who leads this star-studded team, Friday night’s game gave a clear answer: basketball. There is no one singular individual standing high and above this group of talented stars and role players, but instead a commitment to finding an open man and making the right basketball play. The group is worried less about ego and more about achievement. “I think that’s the beauty of it right now,” Williams said of the team’s unified commitment. “Nobody has to play too many minutes, and nobody really cares. Nobody’s pouting, everybody’s cheering, everybody’s having fun. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
The Nets had nine players finish with at least six points. Their main rotation players all played within 19 and 31 minutes, with the injury-restricted Andrei Kirilenko the lone exception. No player took more than eleven field goal attempts. The Nets spread the wealth around offensively, and it paid off massively, with an excellent all-around offensive game against one of the league’s stingiest defenses.
“Our strength is sharing the ball,” Garnett added.” You can’t play defense on everybody.”
If it was star-studded, everyone was a star. Andrei Kirilenko returned to harrow LeBron James in the second half and show off his chemistry with Nets star point guard Deron Williams. Jason Terry buried early three-pointers, hounded Ray Allen around screens defensively, and led The Brooklyn Chant. Alan Anderson took smart shots and played excellent defense on Dwyane Wade, who struggled to get into a rhythm for much of the game. Brook Lopez converted some easy buckets, Kevin Garnett stopped a few others.
But it was the wings that made the biggest difference. Paul Pierce scored 19 points, tying Joe Johnson for the game-high. With time running out and the Nets up two, career 89.4% free throw shooter Ray Allen missed his second shot at the stripe, and Pierce swooped in to grab the rebound. Pierce hit both of his free throws to put the Nets up 99-95 with seven seconds left, adding a few verbal jabs at Mario Chalmers on his way down the court.
“I’ve always called (Pierce) Picasso,” Garnett said. “He’s like a beautiful painting. I get to watch him every night and it’s more than a pleasure to be not only his friend, but his teammate.”
Johnson’s 19 points came, again, at the behest of good basketball. With nobody to sag off in Brooklyn’s star-studded lineup, Johnson shook free on the weak side for two three-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep the Nets ahead. He only needed eight shots and six free throw attempts to score those 19 points, with none bigger than two free throws with three seconds left to give the Nets their final tally of 101 points.
Joe Prunty, acting coach for the last time before Jason Kidd makes his much-anticipated debut in Orlando Sunday, had a more reasoned take on the game.
“They made their run, and we won by one. But if it were a different scenario, and we had a shot at the buzzer and win by one, everybody thinks, ‘Oh, wow, it’s a different feeling.’ The reality is it’s a one-point win.
“Every possession matters, no matter what game it is or when the game is played. That’s really it. We play for 48 minutes.”
Play for 48 minutes they did, and in the end, Brooklyn protected home court in its first chance, with a one-point edge against what many consider the best team in the NBA.
“This place is electric,” Garnett said of Barclays Center. “It’s beautiful, the energy in here is incredible, man. Obviously I’m coming from Beantown and the energy in that city, but Brooklyn… Goddamn. Oh my God. Big up to Brooklyn, man. Straight up. It’s gonna be a pleasure playing here.”