Nobody solves a problem like Cleveland. The Brooklyn Nets capitalized on an opportunity to make franchise history, blowing out the Cleveland Cavaliers by the end of the first quarter and guaranteeing a winning record on the road for the first time since the Nets joined the NBA. The game was never in doubt — Brooklyn, led by an explosion from guard and smooth operator MarShon Brooks, scored a season-high 66 points in the first half, finished with a season-high 31 assists, ran the lead as high as 34 points, and cruised to a dominating 113-95 victory.
Even without six-time All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson and defensive catalyst Gerald Wallace, the Brooklyn Nets led nearly from start to finish. The Nets scored in a variety of ways: with the high pick-and-roll, in isolation, moving the ball, dunks, open three-pointers, midrange shots… you name it, the Nets had it Wednesday night, and the victory catapulted them further into fourth-seed territory — which would give them home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
Make no mistake — Brooks was the evening’s star. MarShon, starting his first game of the season, responded by hitting his first ten shots of the game, most of them self-created dunks and layups. Brooks’s dribbling wizardry was on display, as he stutter-stepped and crossed his way into the lane on multiple occasions, shredding the porous exterior and interior protection that defines a post-Varejao Cleveland Cavaliers roster. Brooks finished with a career-high 27 points on 12-16 shooting, tying another career high with seven assists, and they weren’t cheap; Brooks set up Reggie Evans for back-to-back dunks, Andray Blatche for a slam of his own, and C.J. Watson for open corner threes. It was the most complete game of Brooks’s career, regardless of the inferior competition.
The second-year Brooks stole the show, but his supporting cast was more than effective, each with their own highlight points. Deron Williams had an excellent overall game, punctuated by his first dunk of the season. He still trails Jerry Stackhouse, whose earthly body inexplicably has allowed him to dunk twice now this year. Reggie Evans picked up another eighteen rebounds, with a rebound percentage of 34% and a defensive rebound rate of 48.5% in 27 minutes. Brook Lopez was boringly effective. Kris Humphries turned back a potential Samardo Samuels dunk with emphasis. Andray Blatche hit two stepback jumpers. The final deficit was only eighteen points, but the game was never in doubt.
Without Johnson & Wallace, there was a noticeable difference in how the Nets pushed the ball and found quick shots. Perhaps it was merely a result of playing Cleveland — again, nobody solves a problem like a tanking franchise — but the Nets played an estimated 98 possessions, much faster than their normal rate, and they looked as good as they’ve looked all season. Even though they didn’t create much in transition, their open shots came more quickly in the shot clock than usual, and when they did push the break, it worked — most notably on a Brooks dunk in the first quarter that came off just two dribbles and two passes on the rapid-fire possession. (It should be noted that the Nets played worst in the third quarter, when they played their absolute fastest, but still built the lead on a pace much faster than their season average.)
It was the type of game the Brooklyn Nets would have scripted to end this excessively elongated road trip, particularly coming as the first of a back-to-back: blow out an opponent by the first half, rest the three starters they still had playing in the fourth quarter, set a franchise record, and remind the fanbase that they’ve still got one young exciting player swimming in this sea of veteran talent.