New Jersey Nets 94, Golden State Warriors 90: Wait, that wasn’t Deron out there?

Sundiata Gaines New Jersey Nets
The Sundiata rises in the East.

Box ScoreWarriors WorldGolden State of Mind

Given the obstacles the Nets were up against last night – and by “obstacles,” I mean “Deron Williams not being there” – I firmly expected a loss last night. It’s not that I was mad, just understanding – the Nets were short two starters, two of their other starters were coming back from injuries, and the high-octane Golden State offense isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered with an injury-plagued Nets squad taking the floor.

I am so, so glad I was proven wrong.

As far as big-time performances, the one that stuck out the most wasn’t one by Brook Lopez or Anthony Morrow – who had great games in their own rights. No, the player to watch in this game was the one, the only, Deron… wait, that wasn’t him? That was who?

Sundiata Gaines. That’s right. A guy recently signed to his second ten-day contract made arguably the biggest impact on the game. At first glance, Gaines’s line isn’t astounding, or even good. He attempted just six shots, making two, and turned the ball over three times. But Gaines had yet another one of those “beyond the stat sheet” games that’s turning mere mortals like myself and Mark into a legion of pro-Sundiatas. Without his constant hustle – saving loose balls, drawing charges, sticking to his man like flypaper defensively – the Nets don’t win this game.

I hate using this number as a standard for success over the course of multiple games, and even more just one. But Sundiata Gaines led the game with a +/- of +21, and it wasn’t an aberration. Whether it was the aforementioned scurrying defense (leading to four steals and a big chunk of Monta Ellis’s 7-22 shooting night) or smart playmaking (leading to eight assists), Gaines was one of the biggest difference-makers on the floor. He’s clearly leapfrogged Ben Uzoh on the depth chart, and while the third-string point guard isn’t a position that gets much playing time, the Nets should feel comfortable with that kind of hard work coming off the bench.

For those of you unconvinced, just know that it was Gaines – not Jordan Farmar – on the floor for the final 3:23 of crunch time, and it was Gaines who picked up a crucial offensive rebound in the waning moments. That should tell you all you need to know.

Even without Deron Williams, the Nets had a go-to scorer in crunch time – the big guy that so many have been down on this season. Brook scored the last nine Nets points – all of them either free throws within eight feet of the basket – and proved again that if he stays inside, there are few big men who can slow him down.

Brookie finished with 26 points on 10-17 shooting, and with ten rebounds, picked up yet another double-double. Folks have recently been giving Deron credit for him “regaining focus” or something, but in actuality I just think he’s finally back at full strength since his mono over the summer.

Also, there’s this.

Brook Lopez The Brookie Monster

You’re welcome.

Brookie Monster aside, this win wouldn’t have happened had Anthony Morrow, who originally wasn’t supposed to play, ended up staying out. Morrow continued his torrid stretch of shooting, knocking down his first 4 shots from beyond the arc en route to 22 points on 8-17 shooting. Morrow was found on a lot of spot-ups and also knocked down at least one pretty three in transition. He’s now shooting 45.2% from beyond the arc this year and 45.7849% for his career.

There were a couple of other excellent efforts (and some poor ones) that I’ll discuss after the jump. But as far as a team perspective goes, this game is another one that feeds into my eternal optimism. The Nets were missing their star player, another starter, and still outplayed a decent Western Conference team at full strength over the course of 48 minutes. I’m getting more and more sold on this team as a legit playoff squad next year.

More thoughts after the jump.

You know who else was pretty good? Kris Humphries. The only two shots he missed were jumpers in the 17-foot range, and both of them I was mad about him taking them. He also grabbed fifteen rebounds and had four huge – yes, huge – blocked shots. He also had one waved off for goaltending that didn’t look like it at the time. The guy may have issues rotating, but he sure as hell can block layups with force from the weak side.

As an aside, someone should do a side-by-side comparison of Kris Humphries with Kim in the building as opposed to not. I’m honestly curious.

You know who was pretty bad? Jordan Farmar. Though Gaines was certainly awesome in his own right, Farmar’s poor shooting performance and lack of hustle made the decision to bench him at the end an easy one for Avery.

Travis Outlaw was also not great, but it’s not even fun to make fun of him anymore.

Brandan Wright made his first appearance on an NBA floor since being traded to the New Jersey Nets, and it was a pretty good debut. He didn’t do anything special, but made his only attempt (a driving contested layup) and grabbed a couple of rebounds. He’s not going to be filling a huge role, so it wasn’t too big a deal. But I’ll take decent production like that out of him any day.