Brook Lopez made his return to the Nets in triumphant fashion, leading the Nets to a 116-85 win in the home opener at Barclays Center over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night. The Nets took advantage of the fact that the Thunder were without Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.
Lopez, who has been out a couple of weeks with a sprained foot, led the Nets with 18 points on 6-for-10 from the field with 6 rebounds in 24 minutes. He also had two blocks, which moved him past Mike Gminski and into third place on the Nets’ all-time blocked shots list with 600 career blocked shots.
Lopez said of playing his first regular season game since last December, “It felt good to be out there with the guys. It was a little frustrating personally because I get in some early foul trouble, but our guys kept playing. We were fantastic out there. We were great defensively, there were really no lulls; we moved the ball offensively and we got what we wanted. We couldn’t have started off a better way at home.”
On what the biggest acclimation will be in his return, “I just have to continue to play hard every minute I’m out there, get on the floor and play with energy. My guys are going to get a lot of minutes, and the key will be to play together and play hard through all of them.”
Nets Head Coach Lionel Hollins said of how Lopez moved and played throughout the game, “Brook was fine. I was excited about him blocking those two shots that he actually went from one spot to another block. He was a little sluggish early on, got in foul trouble. But I had made up my mind that I wasn’t just going to leave him out – I was going to keep playing him, and it worked out. He got three fouls, but he didn’t get any more and I just wanted to play him. I wasn’t going to leave him out there to get four or five fouls, but I wanted to give him a rhythm. I didn’t want to sit him for the whole second quarter and not get back in and then start the third quarter, and it worked out.”
Joe Johnson said of the effect of having Lopez back in there, “I think it’s the ball movement. Getting him the ball in his sweet spots really helps him out a lot. Honestly, what really shocked me was that (the Thunder) didn’t double-team him – not one time. But it was great seeing him back out there.”
Deron Williams said of the lift having Lopez in the lineup gave the team, “It’s big. We’re definitely happy to have Brook back in the lineup playing well. I thought he played well, didn’t miss a beat and played well defensively.”
Williams said of the Thunder not double-teaming Lopez, “I think it’s hard because we have shooters all around him. I guess they have confidence in their big man defending him.”
On the bar the Nets are setting for themselves, Lopez said, “I don’t know if we have a bar right now. It’s high up there, very high up there. The sky is the limit for us, and we just have to continue to play together and do what we do. We know every time we step on the floor what we’re supposed to do as a team, and we think we can do that.”
The Nets jumped out to a big lead in the first starting with a Joe Johnson three-pointer that made it 13-6 at the 7:25 mark of the first. That was followed by a Mason Plumlee tip-in, then a Bojan Bogdanovic dunk, a Plumlee dunk on an alley-oop, and a Johnson three that made it 22-10, and sent Barclays Center into a frenzy.
The Nets held a commanding 32-19 lead at the end of the first quarter, and were led by Johnson, who had 9 points, Bogdanovic with 8, and Plumlee with 6. Williams said of setting the tone early, “I think that’s what you want to do. They are without two of their best players and a couple of their best guys as well so you don’t want to give them life or give them confidence and that’s why we tried to be aggressive very early, especially defensively.”
They kept it going in the second, and led by as many as 22,at 48-26 on a Kevin Garnett jumper with 4:44 left. Lopez had the last basket of the quarter, a jumper that gave the Nets a 57-40 lead at halftime.
They maintained that lead in the third, and were up 74-60 with 5:20 left when they started an 11-2 run to close the quarter capped by a Deron Williams driving lay-up that made it 85-62 entering the fourth.
In the fourth, the Nets opened up a 35-point lead, at 110-75, on Sergey Karasev free throws with 3:32 left in the game. They won by 31, with the last basket of the game a three-pointer by Lincoln High School alum Sebastian Telfair in the closing seconds.
Lopez led the way with his 18 points, and Alan Anderson also had 18 off the bench on 7-for-8 from the field and 4-for-4 from behind the arc. Four other Nets had in double figures, with Deron Williams scoring 17 points (4-8 FG, 1-4 on 3-pt), Joe Johnson with 13 (5-10 FG, 2-2 on 3-pt), Bojan Bogdanovic with 12 on 5-for-10 from the field and 2-6 on threes, and Mason Plumlee with 10 points on 5-for-9 from the field.
Hollins said of the biggest takeaway from the win, “Well that we came out and we took care of business. We were aggressive, and we attacked. We got the lead on them 32-19 in the first quarter and we increased it in the second quarter. I thought that we had a little lull focus-wise to start the third quarter, but we got it back real quick. We maintained and increased the lead, and in the fourth quarter the flood gates opened. They just didn’t have enough bodies to keep competing, and in the end they were playing guys after Perry Jones got hurt – I think it was Perry Jones – and they just didn’t have any more subs. But I told the guys ‘don’t get tired of doing the right thing and just go out and do what we do. Don’t worry about them. And this is a game we should win if we play well.’ We did play well and we did win the game.”