LOS ANGELES – It had to be comforting.
The Nets’ starters weren’t getting it done for the most part against the Kings at Sunday night, looking like they were sleepwalking in Sleep Train Arena. So Avery Johnson went to his bench, looking for that spark and infusion of energy against a team they felt they should beat.
Boy did they provide one.
Fueled by 52 points from the bench, the Nets knocked off Sacramento 99-90, getting this three-game West Coast swing off on the right foot. Andray Blatche’s 22 points, Marshon Brooks’ 14 and C.J. Watson’s 13 helped cancel out a sluggish shooting performance from the Nets’ Big Three of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, who went a combined 10-for-36.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons on this team,” Joe Johnson told me. “It doesn’t just have to be me or Deron for us to have a great chance to win. That’s been proven. Our bench is probably one of the best benches in the league, and Brook has been playing great. So we come at you many different ways.”
Time for the Three Pointers:
--* What can you say about MarShon coming through in a pinch?
The lift he gave the Nets in the fourth was instrumental in holding the Kings off. In a robust 9:53 of action in the fourth quarter alone, Brooks pumped in nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, drilling his lone three-point attempt. Admittedly, he was a little stunned Avery had him in the game so long during crunch time.
“He called me in the fourth quarter,” Brooks said. “I was a little surprised actually. I just tried to help, take open shots. Deron, Brook and Joe, they draw so much attention, so I’m getting a lot of easy shots. I just made them.”
Avery, who’s really hard on the second-year guard, said it Brooks’ performance was the best he’s seen out of him in his short career. He even praised – wait for it – Brooks’ defense.
“He was good defensively,” Avery said. “He did a good job on [Marcus] Thornton there for a stretch. He wasn’t breaking plays. I can go through a laundry list of some issues we had. But I thought he did a nice job and I told him I’m really proud of him.”
--* It’s like the CD has a scratch and it’s repeating the same thing over and over again: Joe is struggling mightily with his shot and it’s yet to improve through the season’s first seven games.
In 36:26, which was by far the most minutes played of any starter, Johnson put up 10 shots and sank just one. He missed all three of his three-point attempts, but at least he was effective from the free throw line, connecting on 8 of 9.
However, he didn’t exactly fill out the rest of stat sheet, either, managing only three assists and two rebounds. But Johnson remains unconcerned about his stroke.
“I’m not worried about it at this point, man,” he told me. “We are still winning games and I still have to pick my spots and I’ll get comfortable sooner or later.”
When I asked Avery about Joe’s shot being off target, he let out a hearty laugh.
“All is I can say is he’ll be ready Tuesday,” Johnson said.
--*Gerald Wallace was obviously rusty after not playing for two weeks, and will have to knock it off as he plays himself back into shape. You could see he wasn’t himself, making four uncharacteristic turnovers and looking hesitant with his shot.
Avery said the plan was to have him log four six-minute stretches, and in 24:30, Wallace hit 2-of-3 attempts, finishing with four points, three assists and a steal.
But just welcoming his presence back does wonders for the Nets’ psyche.
Wallace revealed his left ankle wasn’t just sprained. He also had a bone bruise in the ankle. So for him, the biggest thing will be how his ankle responds Monday.
After the game, though, everything was fine.
“I felt good,” Wallace said. “I felt great. It’s basketball, so you’re like a kid on a playground. Once you start playing, you just play. You don’t worry about anything, you don’t feel anything. So, it was enjoyable for me. I didn’t play well. I’m pissed at the way I played, but I’m just happy to be back on the court.”