Surprising Nets proving sum may be greater than their parts
LOS ANGELES — The NBA season is only nine games old, but there is a freshness to the esprit de corps growing in Brooklyn for a Nets organization that has been revitalized from top to bottom. After their first road win of the season, a 122-104 decision over the Suns on Saturday night that ended with a 20-2 run and improved their record to 4-5, the enthusiasm in the Nets’ locker room was palpable.
Center Brook Lopez set the tone for a tremendous defensive effort against the most fast-paced team in the NBA with three early blocked shots, and the Nets held the Suns to 37.4 percent shooting, including 24.2 percent from three-point range, and forced young stars Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe to shoot a combined 6-for-26. It clearly was the Nets’ best defensive effort so far.
But Lopez said: “I don’t want to commit to that because I want to see us keep going. Absolutely, there is something special here for sure. I think we’re definitely more than the sum of our parts. We definitely feed off each other. It’s been something great to see. I think this is just the beginning for ourselves in that regard.”
One of the young stars of the night was second-year forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who played two years of college ball for the University of Arizona and enjoyed career highs of 20 points and 13 rebounds in front of not only a group of college friends but also his mother, Rylanda Hollis, who was flown in from Chester, Pennsylvania, by a friend as a surprise.
“She was sitting in the second row,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Just to have her here tonight was special to me, more so than the 20 points. I winked at her about three times during the game.”
Hollis-Jefferson took the measure of Booker, forcing him to miss his first four shots on a 5-for-18 night that produced only 11 points.
Describing the impact he had on Booker, Hollis-Jefferson said: “It was just being under him. He looks to the left, I’m there. He looks to the right, I’m there, making him feel my presence. He’ll knock some shots down, but starting early on, I gave a little shove or a little bump, like, ‘I’m here.’ ”
The Nets allowed a 16-point second-quarter lead to shrink to two twice in the fourth quarter, the last with 4:16 left. But Nets forward Trevor Booker, who scored eight points in the 20-2 run, said they kept their poise and kept playing hard-nosed defense.
The organization is rebuilding and expectations are low for a team that was 21-61 last season, but a 15-man roster with 10 new faces has higher goals.
“A lot of people wrote us off in the beginning,” Booker said. “But if you look at this team, we have some special players, some pretty good veteran players, very smart players.
“Everybody might not have had the best career so far, but if you put smart players together that really know the game and you give them a chance, there’s a chance to be special, and I think we have something special.”