If this was supposed to be considered a playoff type game, then I like the Nets chances heading into the start of post-season. Led by the Nets superstar trio of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez the Nets grinded out a win over the Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse, sweeping the season series and locking up the fourth seed and home court in the playoffs in the process.
This game looked like it was headed towards being a laugher early in third quarter as the Nets opened up a 24-point lead. The Pacers roared back in the third quarter, however, and briefly took a lead in the 4th quarter before the Nets were able to vanquish them for good.
The big story tonight was the continued brilliance of Williams who finished with 33 points and 14 assists and was in attack mode all night, especially in the second quarter when he erupted for 20 points. Williams’ outside shot was falling as he hit five three-pointers, but more important was Williams’ attack of the paint, which was relentless and at times unstoppable for any Pacer perimeter defender.
The tide turned a bit in the second half when the Pacers put Paul George and his length on Williams, but that only opened the door for Joe Johnson to put his thumbprint on the game.
Instead of erupting for points like Williams did, Johnson’s 24 points came as a slow, steady burn. He abused smaller matchups and floated on the perimeter for timely three-point shots. Johnson’s scoring was especially crucial down the stretch when the Nets were desperate for offense and the Pacers were surging.
The last component of the Nets big three is Brook Lopez and although he was quiet for most of the second half, Lopez set the tone early, easily driving around Pacer big man Roy Hibbert and hitting a myriad of mid-range jumpers to score 14 first quarter points. In the Nets final few possessions, Lopez was used as a ball screener for Williams and his rolling, swooping left-handed layup that came at the 2:23 mark just about clinched the game for the Nets.
It was a chippy, physical game. Deron Williams left hobbling with a knee bruise, Reggie Evans was ejected and Keith Bogans and Lance Stephenson were involved in a scrap that led to a double technical, but if this was a sign of what the playoffs will be like, the Nets responded to the test.
When they’re 24 point lead evaporated in the fourth quarter and the Indiana crowd was rocking, the Nets did not wilt. Instead, they took every Pacer punch, absorbed them, and fought back to reclaim the lead. As the playoffs near, teams will turn to their superstars to lead and tonight the Nets’ big three shone.