Nets blow lead, suffer first home loss
Despite a double-double from Deron Williams, the Nets had to cross off a negative item from their Brooklyn checklist on Monday night: their first loss at the Barclays Center.
Nikola Pekovic had a team-high 21 points and Chase Budinger added 16 – including a three-pointer in the final minute to put the game out of reach – as the Minnesota Timberwolves (2-1) rallied back from a 15-point halftime deficit to top the Nets 107-96.
Resilience was the theme for Minnesota, who suffered a 19-point loss in Toronto on Sunday night and trailed by as many as 22 in their first trip to Brooklyn's new arena. But without two of their star players, the Wolves battled back behind their big men and their bench to become the first to cut down the Nets (1-1) at the Barclays Center.
Reserve guard Alexey Shved scored all 10 of his points, including a pair of key three-pointers, in the fourth quarter, and Minnesota dominated down low, outrebounding Brooklyn 46-30 and notching nearly 60 percent of their total points in the paint. Pecovic and Andrei Kirlenko, who had a double-double with 16 points and 10 boards, also held Brook Lopez in check in the second half.
“Pecovic is a big strong physical guy, and he can wear you down,” Nets head coach Avery Johnson said after the loss. “Giving up so many points in the paint is troubling; I don't know what the exact statistic is, but it's something we have to fix.”
Early on, almost every button Johnson pushed was the right one, including the insertion of Keith Bogans into the starting lineup; with Gerald Wallace sidelined by an ankle injury, Johnson slotted Bogans – who played only the final minute of Saturday's opener – into “Crash's” spot, and the 32-year-old responded by draining a three for the team's first points. Bogans finished with nine points, all from beyond the arc, but was limited to just 14 minutes, something Johnson lamented.
“I thought Bogans gave us a little lift early,” the coach said in his post-game press conference, “but I couldn't stretch him out more than I already had.”
But in the end, it was the Wolves' bench and a little bit of “small ball” that took the Nets down.
“Historically, we've had trouble with smaller lineups, and when they went small, that put us in a bind,” Johnson said. “We relaxed defensively a bit, traded baskets with them in the third quarter, and then when we stopped scoring, they kept going. … We looked like we ran out of gas a little bit.”
For the Nets, Joe Johnson had 19 points to lead five Brooklynites in double figures, Williams added 18 and 13 assists, and Lopez had 13 points and eight rebounds.
“This is one you just want to forget,” Williams said after the game, “but you can't let it linger.”
As Avery Johnson said, the beauty of the NBA is that there's another game right away, and for the Nets that comes in less than 48 hours. Brooklyn is headed on its first road trip of the season, and will battle the defending NBA Champion Heat in Miami on Wednesday night.
“Losses like this have to sting more than they have in the past, because they can come back to bite you later in the season,” Johnson said. “But we have to bounce back; we were doing something right to get a 20-point lead, and we'll figure it out.”