Nets get back on winning track vs. Sixers
After a three-day layoff that helped them regroup and re-energize, the Brooklyn Nets got back on the winning track Sunday afternoon with a 95-92 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center.
Joe Johnson had 22 points, leading six Nets in double figures, as Brooklyn (14-12) snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 6-2 against the Atlantic Division. Deron Williams had a strong all-around game with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace both had 14 points, and Keith Bogans, who was inserted into the starting lineup late, added 13.
Jrue Holiday had a game-high 24 points and nine assists for Philadelphia (13-15), with Thaddeus Young chipping in 18 points and 10 rebounds and center Lavoy Allen adding 12 and nine boards.
“We practiced real hard (this week), we executed, and we came out with a win,” Andray Blatche, who also had 10 points, told YES Network’s Sarah Kustok after the game. “We all know our roles, and we come out here to compete.”
Coach Avery Johnson decided before the game to go to that smaller lineup, with Bogans at small forward and Gerald Wallace moving over to the four, knocking Kris Humphries out of the starting five. Johnson, who pointed pregame to the Sixers’ lack of size up front and a tough matchup with Thaddeus Young, was happy with the result of his smaller lineup, even if it took a little while to jell.
“It helped us; you saw the way Gerald ignited the break for us, and basically, 60 percent of the league is playing this way,” Johnson said. “We’ve had spacing issues, and we’ve had a lot of issues where we went back and looked at all of our offense over the first 25 games. No matter who they started at four, Gerald was going to start at four and that’s what we’ve been working on over the last two days.”
In the game’s opening minutes, it looked as if the layoff and changes may actually have hurt the Nets, with the Sixers beginning the game on a 12-4 run. But after Johnson called a timeout with 5:50 to go in the period, the Nets went on an 18-0 run to take the lead and finished the quarter on a 20-5 jaunt that gave them a 24-17 lead after 12.
The Nets then led by a pair at halftime, and in the third quarter, they shook off their usual post-halftime malaise, outscoring Philly, 26-23, to stretch the lead to five.
“I was very satisfied because that’s been our Achilles heel this year; we still had some minor issues, but for the most part we took care of the ball,” Johnson said of the third quarter. “We were so organized whenever there was a breakdown, and you even saw one situation where (Andray) Blatche was taking up the ball and he called the play for us because we were organized.”
Philadelphia tied the game at 69-69 early in the fourth, but the Nets once again hung tough and never relinquished the lead. The Sixers turned the game into a battle of free throws late, but despite the Nets hitting just four of their eight attempts from the charity stripe in the final minute, they held on for the victory.
“With our situation, we’ll take a win any way we can get one,” Johnson said. “This was a big game for us in a lot of ways, and that’s why I had to stretch Joe (Johnson) and Gerald (Wallace) out a little more. That win, however, came without Humphries seeing any game action at all. Humphries was bumped from the rotation completely on Sunday, and Johnson said after the game that it was a purely tactical move – and one that may stick for a while.
“That’s just the way things have been going; I visited with (Humphries) in my office before the game, and it’s basically a coach’s decision,” Johnson said. “It’s nothing to do with Humphries; he’s healthy, he’s fine, he’s not in the doghouse…we just had to try something else. It’s a tough situation for him, and he wasn’t real excited about it, but I told him this is the way we have to go – but if I call his name, he’s going to have to be ready to play, whether it’s at four or at five.”
With that said, Johnson wasn’t sure if Bogans would remain in the starting lineup every day, but the smaller lineup will be in effect one way or the other.
“We’ve got to stick with something; at the end of the day, we have to settle on something, and if this is the way we’re going to go…like I said, 60 percent of the league plays this way,” he said. “This also helps us in transition defense, because we have smaller, quicker guys on the floor spaced differently, so we’ll see where we go from here. Right now, Gerald playing a whole lot of minutes at four, with Reggie (Evans) playing backup minutes, is what we’re thinking.”
The Nets now look forward to hosting the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day, a game that begins a stretch of four in five days and five in seven to close out 2012. The Nets are 2-0 against Boston this year, but as he has all season, the coach still believes that his 14-12 team is a work in progress.
“We have a lot of work to do, and we at least have some new offense that we can break down on film, and continue to see what’s good and what’s bad,” Johnson said. “We’ll see how long we can go with it, and hopefully we can build some continuity.”
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES