By John Torenli
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
So much was made of the Brooklyn Nets’ multi-million dollar All-Star backcourt this past summer that you’d think the dynamic duo was ready to take over the NBA from the season’s opening tip.
But $100 million point guard Deron Williams and fellow All-Star sharpshooter Joe Johnson, who will make approximately $90 million over the next four seasons, knew the process of developing into the league’s most formidable backcourt tandem would take at least a little time.
“We’ve been trying to get each other going,” Williams admitted after he and Johnson combined for 51 points during Tuesday night’s 114-101 victory over Cleveland in front of 17,032 fans at the Barclays Center.
The heralded Brooklyn backcourt was the key ingredient to the Nets’ third straight win entering Thursday’s Atlantic Division showdown with the visiting Boston Celtics.
Williams finished with 26 points and 10 assists while Johnson shook off his early season shooting woes to add 25 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, to go with five rebounds and six assists as the Nets improved to 4-2 on the young season.
“I thought as a whole it would take a little time to find out where guys were going to be on the floor,” noted Williams. “Every game we’re going to get better at it, until it all comes together.”
The effectiveness of center Brook Lopez (23 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots) along the interior certainly opened things up for Williams and Johnson, who finally appear to be clicking along the perimeter.
“It was fun more than anything because the floor was opened up,” said Johnson, who was averaging just over 13 points per game before his best performance as a Net.
“The defense closed in [on Brook] a little bit and I was able to get my shots,” added Johnson, who went 9-of-16 from the floor, including a series of 3-pointers down the stretch that put the game Cavaliers away. “Us as guards, we have to take ownership in playing defense and helping the bigs with rebounds. You can’t worry about your last shot. You just have to keep shooting.”
Johnson is looking forward to welcoming Boston to Brooklyn’s new basketball home for the first time. The Celtics have won each of the last five Atlantic Division crowns, earning an NBA title and Eastern Conference championship during that stretch while the Nets have missed the playoffs five years in a row.
“It’ll be fun,” Johnson said after the Nets improved to 3-1 at Barclays this season. “I’m sure we’ll come out with a sense of urgency. Try to be the better team.”
When asked if the pressure of living up to the “Best Backcourt in the NBA” label was daunting, Williams indicated he’d had nothing to do with developing the moniker.
“I never said [we were],” Williams chuckled, indicating that general manager Billy King and coach Avery Johnson were the culprits in tagging them with the motto.
“They’re the hype men. It was the first time all season we were both over 20 points. The offense is getting better. We played better together [Tuesday], so hopefully we continue to make improvements.”
Coach Johnson, who was disappointed with his team’s third-quarter performance, in which the Nets were outscored 33-21, also took note of his starting guards’ gaudy statistical line Tuesday night.
“Joe hit some big shots. He hit some from the parking lot,” Johnson said. “Guys like Joe, they know how to play. He and Deron tonight were really efficient. They found each other and they found their teammates.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Nets finally appear to be finding themselves, which could spell trouble for the rest of the league.
Hoop du Jour: Coach Johnson was more than just a little perturbed that the Nets surrendered 60 points in the paint to Cleveland, an area of the game that could have cost them dearly if Williams and Joe Johnson hadn’t lit up the scoreboard. “We won the game so I’ll sleep four hours tonight because we won the game,” the coach said. “Hopefully in our next game, we’ll have more energy in those areas. We’re really going to pay the price if we don’t stop second-chance points. It was a horror film in the third quarter.” ¼ The Nets were without F Gerald Wallace for the fifth straight game since he sprained his left ankle in the season opener against Toronto. Wallace is not expected to return in time to face the Celtics, but coach Johnson is looking forward to having the energetic slasher back in the starting lineup. “It’s going to be really exciting to see it once Gerald gets back and gives us that productivity at the 3 or 4 spot when other teams go small,” he said. ¼ The Nets’ second unit continued to thrive against the Cavs, especially C Andray Blatche, who finished with 13 points, five rebounds and three blocked shots in 19 minutes off the bench. “It’s really not just me. It’s the whole group,” insisted Blatche, who was signed to back up Lopez after seven up-and-down seasons in Washington. “We all trust one another and work hard for one another. It always feels great when we win. I can’t remember the last time I (won three games in a row] in the last couple of years.” ¼ The Celtics, who have won four of their last five games, were scheduled to host Utah on Wednesday before heading into Brooklyn for Thursday’s game against the Nets. ¼ F Reggie Evans grabbed a season-high eight rebounds against the Cavs. ¼ The Nets’ 114 points Tuesday were also a season high. ¼ Think local celebrities aren’t getting hip to the buzz at the Barlcays Center? Tuesday night’s contest featured a celebrity row starring Late Night’s Jimmy Fallon, former New York Giants great Michael Strahan, who is currently co-hosting Live! With Kelly Ripa, Yankee ace C.C. Sabathia, baseball Hall of Famer Eddie Murray and rapper and producer Irv Gotti.