Shaun Livingston a starting point for Nets
Somewhat lost in Joe Johnson's last-second heroics was the tweak Jason Kidd made to the Nets' starting lineup Thursday night, a move that could become permanent based on the results.
By inserting Shaun Livingston into the starting lineup, which essentially shifted Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to different positions, Kidd might have found the solution to the Nets' troubles.
With Brook Lopez sidelined for the rest of the season with a broken foot (surgery is scheduled for Saturday), they have to alter their thinking and their style of play.
The Nets (11-21) hope they've found a magic elixir, something they'll likely test again Saturday night when they host the Cavaliers (11-21) and attempt to gain some momentum.
"Maybe what you saw tonight is going to be the future lineup," Pierce said after the Nets' 95-93 victory over the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Thursday night. "Maybe it's going to be me playing the 'four.' We spread the court. I told them in the back, that was the second time we used that lineup and we're 2-0 with that lineup.
"Maybe it's a position change in the making for me -- something that's going to work for us. But who knows?"
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the starting configuration, which debuted against the Bucks a week ago, is that it seemed to ignite Williams, the guy Kidd wanted to be a major part of the most valuable player conversation but instead has been hobbled by his troublesome ankles.
Williams scored a season-high 29 points, canning 10 of 17 shots and knocking down a season-high six three-pointers. His five steals tied a career high.
By having Livingston focus primarily on ballhandling duties and running the offense at times, it freed Williams up, allowing him to attack the basket and try his best to put defenders on skates.
"Yeah, I've been wanting to do that a little bit more," Williams said. "I get into a rhythm by coming off screens, playing like that. It's good to have Shaun out there and being able to roam out there and being more aggressive."
When Williams is playing like that -- as he did for the final few months of last season, when he looked like a max-contract player -- there's little doubt that the Nets are much more difficult to beat. With the offense more spread out, the extra spacing allows others room to maneuver and forces the defense to work harder.
"It opens up the floor for everybody because he's a long-range threat, so it gives us space," Livingston said. "You saw Paul able to operate in the fourth quarter because they are worried about Deron scoring."
Even Thunder coach Scott Brooks was caught off guard by the Nets' new quintet, suggesting, "Normally, we wouldn't see that lineup in an NBA game."
But there it was, and the opposition might have to get used to the Nets employing that look -- for a variety of reasons.
"Well, it makes us versatile," Garnett said. "If you don't have a 'four' that can actually guard a small or a 'three' or whatever, then it makes it difficult. A lot of teams like to switch, but Paul does a good job of putting pressure, Joe does a good job of putting pressure, D-Will tonight was very aggressive. Everybody who played tonight I feel like was pretty much aggressive and making their defense react. The small lineup, I think we're like 2-0 with it right now, so we'll see what it does."
The lone negative: The Nets already weren't a good rebounding team, and playing small ball could lead to issues on the boards. Surprisingly, that wasn't a huge problem against the Thunder's statuesque front line of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Pierce said he played some power forward for the Celtics but that most of his time at the position came in college at Kansas. He held his own Thursday and embraced the challenge of standing in against the 6-10 Ibaka -- and whomever else he'll have to guard if the Nets stick with that lineup.
"I said from the beginning, whatever role I got to play on this team," Pierce said. "I'll come off the bench, I've started at the three, I'm playing the four. I just want to win. If that means that's what I got to do for the rest of the season, that's going to make our team successful, that's what I'm going to do."