Brook Lopez returns to power Nets over Thunder
Knowing that Brook Lopez hadn't played in three weeks and fully aware that his big man might not be in the best cardiovascular shape, Nets coach Lionel Hollins completely understood the biggest challenge facing the 7-footer Monday night.
"Make sure he doesn't trip over his tongue," Hollins said before tipoff. "Get him out of the game before his tongue gets that low."
Lopez's tongue wasn't hanging out very much early on, given that he collected two quick fouls 2 minutes, 49 seconds into his regular-season debut -- his first meaningful game since fracturing a bone in his right foot in December.
But it didn't take long for Lopez, who was sidelined the past three weeks with a mild right midfoot sprain, to find ways to have many mouths agape among the sellout crowd of 17,732.
Providing the Nets a low-post presence they sorely missed and giving them a rim protector, Lopez looked good in his much-anticipated return to action. He even threw down a couple of dunks, including one over Perry Jones III in the second quarter that had Kevin Garnett hyped up.
Lopez showed no ill effects from his foot problems, powering the Nets to a 116-85 win over the Thunder at Barclays Center, their largest margin of victory in a home opener in franchise history.
Lopez had 18 points, six rebounds and a pair of blocks in 24 minutes, spearheading an attack in which six Nets reached double figures. The Nets (2-1) took advantage of the absence of injured Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
"I tried to come out with effort," Lopez said. "We have lots of different guys who can do different things. We have guys who can score, make plays, can rebound the ball, play defense. I just tried to do a little bit of everything and do what the team needed me to do."
Perhaps that's why Hollins was so pleased with Lopez's defensive effort.
"Brook was fine," Hollins said. "I was excited about him blocking those two shots that he actually went from one spot to another block."
Lopez virtually had his way inside and couldn't be corralled by the Thunder (1-3). The Nets featured him early and often, getting the ball to him in the post to break down the defense and spur ball movement.
"Honestly, what really shocked me was I don't think they double teamed him not one time," Joe Johnson said. "I don't know if it was the game plan or what. I was thinking about it. I don't think they sent the double team on him."
With owner Mikhail Prokhorov looking on from his luxury suite, the Nets mashed hard on the accelerator from the get-go. In building a first-half lead as large as 22 points, they shot 53.7 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from three-point range, trailing only once at 6-5. They were cruising on a festive night that featured R&B singer and Glen Cove native Ashanti singing the national anthem and rapper Fabolous introducing the Nets' starting lineup.
"We want to protect home court," Deron Williams said. "We did a good job tonight and we set the tone for the first game. Hopefully, this play continues on Wednesday."