With the Denver Nuggets in town, a young, springy athletic team, past Brooklyn Nets incarnations would’ve been blown away. Now rebuilt under new expectations and personnel, those very Nets are now the ones that can give teams absolute fits in certain moments. Between the hyperactive Trevor Brooker and fastbreak-leading Isaiah Whitehead, the Nets feasted on early, lazy turnovers and sped out to a 13-2 lead within minutes.
The Nuggets, the 10th-best team in the crowded Western Conference, carelessly threw away the ball an inane 6 times in the first quarter alone, in stark contrast to the Nets’ 3. We’ve seen hot starts from the Nets thus far, but this exceeded all other performances — perhaps aided by the ever-popular Star Wars night.
Booker, who nearly hauled down a double-double in the first quarter — 10 points, 6 rebounds — absolutely bullied the Nuggets’ big men and Chew-Brook-A fared just as well. Busy bodying the likes of Darrell Arthur and Jusef Nurkic, the Nets’ frontcourt took smart shots and the rest of the team benefitted immensely.
Following the Nets’ 26-2 thrashing in the paint, they’d lead 36-23 through 12 minutes.
Even better, Caris LeVert would make his NBA debut as well — checking in to guard Jamal Murray and the rookie would record his first career steal almost immediately. The long-awaited moment has arrived, but with Jeremy Lin’s injury still lingering, LeVert’s lengthiness gives Kenny Atkinson the ability to create strange hybrid lineups and get weird. Should he stay healthy, he’s got the ability to be the first real cornerstone of the future — no pressure though, kid.
Elsewhere, Lopez, who had a miserable Star Wars night last season — 11 points, 6 rebounds on 4-15 shooting — came out firing but with similar results. Whitehead, now suddenly dealing with another promising rookie on his turf, played an efficient 9 minutes to the tune of 10 points. Following LeVert’s tremendous 3-steal effort, the Nets suddenly found themselves up 50-30 and running with Anthony Bennett, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, LeVert, and Whitehead.
And yet, you know where these grades would make or break tonight: the third quarter. Would they come out slow? One step behind? Or would Lopez come out with two-straight bombs from downtown? If you guessed door no. 3, you nailed it — and instead of shriveling in the post-halftime sun, the Nets absolutely crushed the visiting Nuggets like Darth Vader effortlessly evaporated Alderaan.
Speaking of volcanic blowups, however, the Nets, winning by as much as 29 points, were treated to a Vader-like tantrum when Nuggets head coach Mike Malone got himself tossed from to game for arguing a technical foul call. From there, the Nets promptly crumbled… and, boy, did they make garbage time worth your while. (Oh, and the Nets outscored a team in the third quarter ((just by 1 point, but shh!)))
Before you could even blink, the trio of Wilson Chandler, Jamal Murray, and Jameer Nelson dragged the Nuggets back to as close as 20… and then 15… and then 11.. and then 7…and then 5… and then…
Sean Kilpatrick, a former Nugget himself, finished strong and ran his point total up to 20 points despite having just 7 at the half — an everclear calming presence for the Nets as of late. However, a frantic scene saw the Nuggets get three consecutive three-point attempts before Chandler crushed one to make the score 111-109 with 16 seconds remaing. Booker made one of two free throw attempts and, suddenly (or perhaps finally), the Nuggets had clawed back from 29 down and the Nets were left scrambling for their lives.
Luckily, the Nets Nets’d so hard that some of their Netsy-ness rubbed off the Nuggets and Nelson tossed the potential game-tying possession into the cameras on the baseline. A few free throws later, and despite their very best efforts, the Nets held off the charge and earned a much-needed win.
Your sins are forgiven.
*Defensive issues aside, this was a first-half masterclass from the Nets on offense and they needed this win so badly — so, then, we celebrate.*
The stats: 24 PTS, 7-17 FG, 8 REB, 4 AST, 2 BLK, 2 TOV
Physical, looming, and crafty — all the skills you might expect out of the former All-Star on any given night, but particularly so on Star Wars night.
Poor Nikola Jokic and Jusef Nurkic, two beefy centers that had no choice against the nerdy Net, were forced to learn Lopez’s insane set of moves in a trial-by-fire fashion.
The stats: 16 PTS, 6-8 FG, 2-3 3PT, 2 STL
The stats: 0 PTS, 0-3 FG, 4 REB, 3 STL
Welcome to the NBA, Caris.
LeVert, who appeared to play minutes very briefly at the 3 and 4, showed off his ball-hawking skills immediately. By jumping into the pass lane, LeVert racked up 3 quick steals and ran the court like an antelope.
Finally, the prized jewel has been released.