On a night when his twin brother Robin Lopez of the Bulls punched Toronto’s Serge Ibaka, it was Nets center Brook Lopez who delivered the knockout punch in a 98-96 victory over Detroit Tuesday night at Barclays Center. With 2.4 seconds left, Lopez caught an inbounds pass, dribbled once and hit a 16-foot baseline jumper that was the first buzzer-beater of his nine-season Nets career for the win.
Moments earlier, Long Island native Tobias Harris had tied the game at 96 for the Pistons with a baseline jump shot that wiped out an 11-point Nets fourth-quarter lead. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson called time and drew up a play for Lopez, who scored 12 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. Isaiah Whitehead set a screen that freed Lopez, and Randy Foye delivered the inbounds pass.
“It was for a catch-and-shoot, but he took a dribble, knew how much time was left and made a heck of a shot,” Atkinson said. “It was about Brook being a heck of a player.”
Lopez said he discussed the remaining time in the huddle and was confident there was enough left. “Isaiah set a beautiful screen, Randy made a great pass, and I just tried to get it up,” Lopez said. “I was very confident. It felt good. We executed so well on that last play.”
The Nets were without injured point guard Jeremy Lin, who is nursing a sprained right ankle. He participated in the morning shootaround, but it was decided to rest him as a precaution.
In his absence, the Nets (14-56) got strong play from starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie (10 points, eight rebounds) and backup Archie Goodwin (10 points, five rebounds), who is on a 10-day contract. Caris LeVert had 15 points, and K.J. McDaniels had 11 off the bench. Harris topped the Pistons (34-37) with 24 points, and they got 19 from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and 13 points and 17 rebounds from Andre Drummond.
Detroit took a nine-point first-quarter lead, but the Nets gained control in the second quarter when they held the Pistons to 13 points. They forced Detroit into .217 shooting from three-point range (five of 23), and over the final three quarters, the Nets dominated points in the paint at 38-24, largely because of how Dinwiddie and Goodwin penetrated.
“We just kept driving it and driving it into the paint, forcing them to make plays at the rim,” Atkinson said. “Then, Brook causes big problems because now he’s popping to the three. That added advantage of having Brook hitting those threes and keeping them honest out there is big for our guards who are able to get to the rim.”
The Nets gained an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter and then saw it shrink to nothing when Marcus Morris tied the game at 94 with 58.9 seconds left. Atkinson said the Nets made a concerted effort to play through Lopez in the final period.
“You’re playing that game,” Atkinson said. “Are we going to him too much? But he’s the best player out there for us, and we’ve got to get him the ball. At the end, it worked out OK.”
Lopez was thrilled with the play of the point guards and all the young players and newcomers on the team. “The constant theme and motif for the remainder of the season is to keep playing through and not quit and have no slippage,” Lopez said. “We want to build a foundation and get things right so we’re confident going into next season.”
Afterward, Lopez was laughing about his brother’s fight and said people were telling him about it during the game. He joked that he’d be pulling for Ibaka in a grudge match and said his brother is known for throwing the first punch.
Asked if he ever got into it with Robin, Brook delivered his second KO punch of the night, saying, “Absolutely. I can tell you right now, if that were me out there, Rob would have been on the ground.”