ORLANDO, Fla. -- They were wearing their black road uniforms, not ripped jeans and crusty old white T-shirts that Steve Lombardi sported during his latter days in the WWF.
But the Nets still played the role of the Brooklyn Brawler in Wednesday night’s 95-83 win over the Celtics at TD Garden, refusing to back down when Rajon Rondo went hard at Kris Humphries at the end of the first half. That scuffle was another example of just how the Nets are showing the league that there’s a new attitude flowing throughout the franchise.
“Mentally tough,” Avery Johnson said. “Lot of fiber on our team. They battled and they fought hard, literally I guess. And they just didn’t give in. They didn’t give in to any adversity. We had a lot of adversity on the court on the road.”
Unnecessary adversity, if you ask the players. They came to Humphries’ defense, wondering what else the power forward was supposed to do once Rondo got all in his grill.
“That’s just like a mosquito in your face,” Reggie Evans said. “Eventually, you are going to swat at it, right? Or get it out of your face, right? You're usually going to get bumps all over your face and stuff. So you have to knock the mosquito down.”
“Quite naturally,” he added, “Hump, any time you are going to bully a little guard, for what? Where I come from, you beat up a little boy, you don’t get no points for that, you know what I’m saying? He didn’t do that. So quite naturally, when somebody goes at you, it’s not necessarily that you have to fight. You have to defend yourself. It was a good thing that it didn’t get any worse than it did.”
Deron Williams felt Humphries did the right thing in defending himself.
“Rondo grabbed him at his neck,” he said. “He’s got scratches on his neck, on his back. What are you supposed to do?”
When suggested that the NBA believes players are supposed to maintain the hands-off approach even during a scuffle, Williams’ eyes nearly bugged out of his cranium.
“Well that sounds good,” he said. “Guys that haven’t been in a fight, that’s what they would do. They’d get whooped too.”
So let’s look back at the actual game, something that wasn’t all that possible Wednesday night given the craziness that transpired.
Time for Three Pointers:
--* Dray Blatche was a beast in helping the Nets snap a four-game losing streak in Boston and earn their second win in the last 11 road contests in Beantown.
The day after he went on a D.C. radio station to exorcize more demons from his seven-year stint with the Wizards, the reserve center went out and really took it to the Celtics.
Once Brook Lopez picked up his second foul early in the first quarter, Avery summoned Blatche off the bench and he was effective immediately, turning into a rebounding machine. He had five points and eight rebounds in the first quarter alone, and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, hitting 7 of 14 shots from the floor.
No sweat, he said.
“[Just] continue to go out and do what I usually do,” he said when asked about his increased playing time. “Try to get to the boards and finish around the rim and protect the rim, just do my job.”
The Nets, so far, are getting a pretty good return on their investment. They are only paying him the veteran’s minimum on his one-year deal
“I know my role,” Blatche said. “I’m going to stick to it and do it.”
--* Can’t forget about your usual Morning Joe.
After struggling mightily with his stroke in Monday’s win over the Knicks, Joe got it going against the Celtics and led the Nets in scoring. He netted 18 points on 6 of 14 shooting and hit 3 of 6 three-point attempts. He also went to the free throw line four times, showing a little more aggressiveness.
There was a sequence in the first quarter where he swished back-to-back threes to give the Nets a 17-14 lead, an advantage they, of course, never relinquished. So for one day, at least, Joe looked more like his six-time All-Star self.
Oh yeah, he broke Paul Pierce's ankles as well. Give it a look on YouTube.
“It’s not even about me making shots, really,” Joe said when I asked him about getting back on track offensively. “Yeah, still teams aren’t letting me play one-on-one. I got a little chance to play one-on-one tonight. But they are still doubling and things like that. So, I’m just trying to find the open guy. If I’m not scoring, I’m trying to fine the weakside guy or dump it off to the bigs, and make easy plays.”
--* Deron continues to dish the rock effectively, but Joe’s All-Star backcourt mate still isn’t getting it done consistently enough offensively.
And he knows it.
Williams had seven assists, but mustered just eight points after making 3 of 12 shots. In his last five games, he’s made only 20 of 64 attempts. He hasn’t been all that deadly from three-point range, either, making a modest 5 of 24.
In fact, the last time Deron shot 50 percent from the floor or better was back on Nov. 13 in the Nets’ win over the Cavs at the Barclays Center, when he hit 10 of 20 attempts and pumped in 26 points and 10 dimes.
Although the Nets sit atop the Atlantic Division, imagine how much better off they'd be if Deron was knocking down his ‘J’ with more regularity. After watching Joe’s touch against the Celtics, Deron’s more than ready to become bigger factor offensively.
“I’ve got to get going now,” he said. “I want to join the party and help out a little bit.”