Joe Johnson, Deron Williams lead Nets past Trail Blazers
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What the Nets, those recent settlers in Brooklyn, decided to do about the first half of Sunday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers was forget about it.
They were behind by four and being outshot -- especially from three-point range -- as Deron Williams continued to struggle offensively (0-for-4 from the field) and the team was a step slow on defense.
"We visited about that at halftime," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "I told them I refused to go crazy or use bad language, but I was really disappointed with our defense. And they responded."
The Nets won going away, 98-85, and eventually had plenty of good things worth remembering: The team's evolving chemistry. Shooting guard Joe Johnson's discovery of his shooting touch (10-for-19 from the field for a game-high 21 points). Reserve big man Reggie Evans' yeoman work on the boards (a game-high 14 rebounds). Williams' leading total of assists (12), his three steals and his thoroughly unexpected four blocked shots.
A 9-4 start to the second half gave the Nets (8-4) their first lead at 55-54 since a 23-21 edge late in the first period. And while Portland (6-7) scrambled back into a temporary five-point edge late in the third, the Nets laid a 13-4 run on the visitors to start the fourth. The game was never close again.
Had it not been for Joe Johnson's quick start -- 11 of his team's 15 points during one stretch midway through the first period -- those appreciative singsong "Brook-lyn, Brook-lyn" chants might never have started in the fourth quarter.
Of slowly climbing above his pregame 38-percent shooting, Johnson said: "It's coming, man. You just kind of get in a rhythm and feel like, every time you catch the ball, you're in the right spot. Tonight was one of those nights."
Avery Johnson submitted that his team might have experienced adverse psychological effects caused by the absence of Portland's second-leading scorer, LaMarcus Aldridge, scratched because of back spasms.
"It's hard to explain," Avery Johnson said, "but sometimes that has an effect on staying focused."
By halftime, Aldridge's understudy, 7-1 rookie Meyers Leonard, had shot 6-for-7 for 12 points. Evans dismissed any cause-and-effect, arguing that "there'll be games like that, where a lot of teams play better without some of their best players. Look at the Knicks, without Amar'e [Stoudemire]. We just didn't play our style at first, but we kind of woke up."
And Leonard never scored another point.
Three-point accuracy, which has been a Portland strength, continued to be so, behind guards Wesley Matthews (3-for-7 from long range, a total of 20 points) and rookie Damian Lillard (3-for-5, 13 points). But virtually all of Portland's punch came from its starters, and the Nets' bench outscored Portland's 31-9.
Andray Blatche had a lot to do with that, scoring 13 points and adding eight rebounds.
In the end, Avery Johnson got a lot of what he has been wishing for: rebounding, led by Kris Humphries' 10, close to his expectation of 100 points. He also got a burgeoning home-court advantage in the new Barclays Center.
"Especially when your team is sputtering a little bit," he said, "the crowd starts to holler 'dee-fense' or here, they chant 'Brooklyn' -- which we all love -- this is what we've been waiting for."