The Nets suddenly look like the Brooklyn Nets they were supposed to be coming into this season. And they’re doing it without Deron Williams or Brook Lopez.
The Nets outlasted the Miami Heat last night in a physical, postseason-like game at the Barclays Center. LeBron James spent most of the game scowling and fouled out in the first of what turned out to be a pair of overtime sessions.
It was the second night of a Big Apple back-to-back for the Heat, who entered the night fresh off a loss to the Knicks and without Dwyane Wade (who is nursing a sore knee). They looked determined to win in Brooklyn and establish a winning tone for the rest of their East Coast road trip, but fell short.
Before fouling out, LeBron played exquisitely, tallying 36 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, but committed several key offensive fouls late in the game. His frustration seemed to be boiling over when he displayed unusual anger in reacting to a hard foul committed on him by Mirza Teletovic. Chris Bosh had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but his presence in the game was very unimpressive. Norris Cole (who might have the jazziest nickname on the team in Cole Train), on the other hand, scored 18 points and contributed 7 assists, and looked calm and composed in taking the shot which tied the game at 93 at the end of the first overtime.
For the Nets, it was perhaps the best show of cohesiveness they’ve managed this year, and they spent much of the night whipping the ball around, getting good looks at the hoop, and playing solid defense.
Recently, the Nets defense (an absolute train wreck for the first two months of the season) has been substantially better. Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, and especially Shaun Livingston were fantastic on the defensive end during the battle with the Heat.
Livingston was brilliant and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. He logged 51 minutes and still, astoundingly, looked spry at the game’s end. He blocked four shots, and came up with big plays and saves repeatedly down the stretch. Earlier in the game, Joe Johnson helped keep the Nets in the contest as the Heat came out of the gate on fire from the field. Johnson scored 22 of the Nets’ 33 first quarter points, and finished the night with a total of 32.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce seem to be finding themselves. Pierce, finally healthy and playing well, dropped 23 on Miami, and knocked in several clutch shots. Garnett’s offensive game has mostly left him at this point in his career, but he was an efficient 5 of 8 from the field.
The Nets beat the Heat earlier this year–in the home opener against Miami on November 1st. After that win, the Nets lost 9 of their next 11 games. That doesn’t seem likely to recur here; Brooklyn is playing well, and with five straight wins over mostly quality opponents, there is plenty of reason for those “Brooooklyn” chants to be shaking the Barclays Center. LeBron James and the Heat certainly heard them last night.