BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Following Brooklyn’s 107-86 loss at the hands of the lottery-bound Orlando Magic Sunday night, Kevin Garnett had some choice words for his teammates on the franchise’s charter flight back to Brooklyn.
“Nothing I’d like to share nor repeat,” Garnett said of his speech, “But we’re trying to form something here.”
Following Garnett’s words, the Nets had an “intense” practice following Sunday night’s blowout loss, one Nets insider said, saying that Garnett in particular came in “highly motivated” to rectify the mistakes made in the loss against Orlando. Rectify they did.
In their second home game of the season, in Jason Kidd’s home debut as head coach, in their first game following a laugher of a loss at the hands of a lottery-bound franchise, the Brooklyn Nets erased all former doubts about complacency against poor teams, wiping out the Utah Jazz 104-88 in a game that was garbage time for the final three quarters. The Nets never trailed and led by as much as 26, never giving the Jazz a chance to make the game close.
“Yesterday, probably the hardest (practice we’ve had) since training camp,” Garnett said. “Orlando was a totally failed effort and we really got after it. I’d like to say yesterday’s carry-over from that practice was today. We emphasized in that practice: touching the paint, being in the paint, getting to the free throw line, being aggressive, and I thought we carried that over tonight.”
The game was won in the paint, on both sides. Nets went inside to Lopez on numerous occasions, and he delivered, dropping in 27 points on 10 field goals in 25 minutes. All 10 of Lopez’s buckets came inside the paint, and most were simple layups, though I’d be remiss to not mention this emphatic slam:
“I think my guys just found me in good positions,” Lopez said of his dominant night. “They were always looking and I was trying to catch it and finish strong. I think in general we did a good job of attacking the basket and playing off that, inside and out.”
After 39 of the team’s 89 field goal attempts against Orlando came in the non-painted midrange, the Nets switched their gameplan up significantly, shooting just 23 attempts from that zone. Six Nets scored in double figures, and the team as a whole shot 51.3% from the field, including a scorching 29-44 in the paint.
Conversely, Utah struggled to get anything in the painted area, scoring just 26 points on 13-33 shooting. “We made a conscious effort not to let guys get easy catches,” Kidd said of the team’s defensive strategy in the paint. “That was something that we talked about when we saw what happened in Orlando, they were catching the ball easy. We made it a little bit tougher.”
Many of those 20 misses in the paint were turned back by Lopez, and the Nets were not short in their praise of the 7-footer.
“He’s very poised, he’s very strong,” Garnett glowed of Lopez after the game. “He’s a real chill person but has a fire. He plays really, really poised basketball. He’s never rattled. Seems to be always under control, and very, very strong. I’m not gonna say (he’s) underestimated, but he’s very strong, to go through plays and finish them very well. Probably the best I’ve seen in a while.”
“Definitely Brook,” Deron Williams noted, completely unprompted. “We wanted to feed him tonight because he was working, and we talked about that last game, that we needed to play a little more inside out. I think we established that early.”
This is the potentially explosive Nets offense they displayed Sunday night, just against a much inferior team, and it delivered both in production and aesthetics. Swing passes to a wide-open Joe Johnson? Check. Brook Lopez bullying inferior defenders in the paint? Check. A picture-perfect pass out of the high post from Kevin Garnett to a cutting Andrei Kirilenko backdoor for a dunk? Check, check, check. This is the team’s high-powered offense in full swing, and with such a plethora of options, the team can spread the wealth around without anyone’s ego bruised.
“We don’t have anybody that’s worried about scoring,” Williams added. “That’s the beautiful thing about this team. Nobody really cares if they score 10, if they score 20, they score 2. We just want to win.”
But the game ball didn’t go to any one player, it went to coach Kidd, who picked up his first victory on the sidelines as a head coach. Kidd entered a darkened locker room and thought the electricity was off, until he realized the players were celebrating by giving him the ball, a move Kidd called “very classy.”
But don’t tell Kidd this: they nearly forgot. “Timmy Walsh (Nets trainer) grabbed (the ball),” Williams laughed after the game. “We forgot it was his first win, ’cause we had already won.”