Lopez, Johnson lead Nets over Clippers
BROOKLYN -- Brook Lopez had 26 points and Joe Johnson added 19 as the Brooklyn Nets got back on track by beating the Los Angeles Clippers, 86-76, at Barclays Center on Friday night.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for Brooklyn (7-4) who, despite being outrebounded, 45-35, played their "best defensive game of the season" according to coach Avery Johnson. They held a Clippers team that averaged 102.4 points per game coming in to just 76.
"We have three different areas that we talk about: our system defensively, game plan adjustments, and then individual tendencies; I thought we were good in all three categories," Johnson said after the game. "In addition, we had one of our better second halves."
Lopez keyed that second-half run by breaking out in the third quarter. He scored 10 of his 26 in a stanza that saw Brooklyn outscore LA 23-16 -- and pull into a 63-all tie after trailing at the half. The third has been a notoriously tough quarter for Brooklyn all season, but Johnson credited a tweak in his style for helping keep Brooklyn "in the black" so to speak on this Black Friday.
"One of my assistants told me they thought I should stand up more and try to get some energy in our guys, and I told them to just keep pushing the pace," Johnson said. "So we had a very good third quarter, and I think that carried over into the fourth."
In that fourth, Brooklyn’s "Bench Mob" held the Clippers in check in the first few minutes, and the Nets' defense flustered LA in general -- but especially All-World point guard Chris Paul, who was held scoreless in the final frame and committed all six of his fouls in that same span.
Meanwhile, after the bench held the game in check, Lopez added six more points to push the Nets ahead. Johnson, whose 19-point night went somewhat under the radar due to Lopez’s dominance, hit a big bucket with 1:42 remaining to push Brooklyn’s lead to eight and salt the game away.
"I thought (Joe Johnson) did a good job tonight of taking his shots when he was wide open," Avery Johnson said of his two-guard. "We believe in his shot, and when he wasn’t open, he did a good job of trying to use his big body to get into the paint and make something happen."
The paint was indeed owned by Brooklyn.
Despite the rebounding disparity, the Nets outscored the Clippers, 42-34, in the paint thanks in large part to Lopez. His 26 points came on 13-of-24 shooting from the field, and he told YES Network’s Sarah Kustok after the game that the performance was a product of his teammates getting him good looks around the basket.
Avery Johnson was happy about that offensive outburst after the game, but also praised his center’s efforts on the other end of the floor as a key to the team’s victory.
"I’ve been encouraging him to take the ball to the basket aggressively…but the thing I’m really encouraged about is the blocked shots," Johnson said. "Maybe the rebounds aren’t quite where we want them to be, maybe they’ll be there in December or January, but right now he’s blocking shots.
"His tendency in the past has been to not get off the ground, to contest the shot more horizontal than vertical. Those are things we’ve been working with him on, and now he’s getting more confidence and I think he’s having fun with it, because he’s trying to do something that we haven’t seen him do on a regular basis."
Deron Williams also had a solid night for the Nets, contributing 11 points and eight assists, and Reggie Evans added a team-high 12 rebounds as Brooklyn bested the Clippers (8-4) for the fifth time in their last six meetings.
For Los Angeles, Paul led the way, scoring 14 points and dishing out a game-high nine assists before fouling out with just under a minute to go. Blake Griffin had 14 points and eight rebounds, sixth man Jamal Crawford added 13 points, and center DeAndre Jordan tallied a double-double with 12 points and a game-high 13 boards.
With the win, Brooklyn successfully kicked off a second straight run of three games in four nights. The Nets will play Portland at home on Sunday afternoon and then the Knicks on Monday night. Brooklyn finished just 1-2 on its three-in-four West Coast trip earlier this week.
But after pushing their record to 5-1 at the Barclays Center on Black Friday, Avery Johnson credited the capacity crowd of 17,732 for being a big factor -- one that will hopefully be alive on Sunday and Monday as well.
"Our CEO, Brett Yormark, stopped into my office before the game and said 'Coach, it’s going to be a sellout and the fans are going to be into the game,'" Johnson said, "and our fans were energetic the whole night. Even from the starting lineup introductions, the intensity and energy in the building was really contagious, and I think that really helped us."
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES