There are no statement games in November in the NBA, but there are breakthrough wins, and the Brooklyn Nets certainly made sure the rest of the Atlantic Division took notice of them by defeating the Boston Celtics last night. The win was crucial to a basketball team still struggling to find it's identity – and chemistry – on the hardwood, without conceding ground to it's more veteran laden cross-town rivals, the Knicks.
Although they entered the game with a 4-2 record, not one of those wins had been against a team above .500, more importantly, the Nets were looking to rectify an emerging trend of second-half fadeouts. After blowing a 22-point lead against a depleted Timberwolves team, and almost throwing away another huge lead versus Orlando, the Nets were seeking a big-name scalp to assert themselves – and prove they were a better side than their insipid 115-85 showing to the Celtics during the pre-season.
Head coach Avery Johnson had been preaching that people should not judge his team until 20, or 30, games into the season, but with this win it's clear that this group is on the right path. Johnson was proud of the way each member of the playing rotation stepped up and played their part tonight.
"I thought Brook [Lopez] and Joe [Johnson] were really great down the stretch for us. Reggie Evans with his defense down the stretch, Deron [Williams] quarterbacking the team. It was just fun to watch," said Johnson. "To be able to win a close game like that – especially without Gerald Wallace – it really means a lot to us."
The exciting thing for the Nets was that throughout the game each member of it's big trio stepped up at various points when needed. As usual, the team fed big man Brook Lopez early (10 points, 5/7 F/G in the first quarter), Deron Williams stepped up throughout the game and Joe Johnson (who had been struggling) helped ice the game late in the fourth with 7-points. It was the first time all season long that all three players enjoyed a good game on the same night.
To them the win was just as significant chemistry wise, to help build character and form an identity.
"It was very important to me [to get the win]," said Joe Johnson. "We showed a lot of resiliency in that fourth quarter. We were down [but] we were able to get stops down the stretch, as well as easy baskets."
It's still early in the season and this Boston team is yet to fully hit it's stride, but you knew that even though they were down 13-points in the third, the Celtics were going to hit back hard. Led by Paul Pierce (17 points in the quarter), Boston took control of the game. The assumption was that the Nets would fold. Not on this night however.
Brooklyn have made it a point to protect their court as much as possible; making it a place where opponents fear playing. Face-of-the-franchise Deron Williams acknowledged the magnitude of defeating the reigning Division leaders.
"This was a huge win for us. Even though they didn't have Rondo, it's still a big win for us 'cos we didn't have Gerald [Wallace] who's a big part of our team and we came out and battled. They made a run – we were able to sustain that run – knocked down our free throws at the end of the game, made some key stops when we needed to. This was a huge win for us."
This may have been just another game in November, but if the Brooklyn Nets continue to improve at the rate they have in recent games, they may look back at this Boston win as their season-defining moment. They proved that they deserve to be mentioned among the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams: capable of beating any opponent on any given night.
The Nets needed to prove they can compete with playoff tested teams such as Miami, Boston or the Lakers, and they did.
Center Brook Loez said the win was amazing, but the best was yet to come for Brooklyn.
"It [win] is great. We have had three or four great victories in a rown now. We just keep continuing to improve every game and I think the sky is the limit for us."