By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
With $100 million point guard Deron Williams sidelined until after the All-Star break due to a pair of swollen ankles, and backup C.J. Watson enduring a dreadful shooting night during a rare start, Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo was forced to turn to rookie Tyshawn Taylor in the hopes of giving his suddenly struggling team a lift Monday night in Indiana.
The Jersey native did Brooklyn and his interim coach proud, scoring a career-high 12 points while lifting the Nets to a much-needed 89-84 overtime victory over the Pacers before a crowd of 11,672 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"I played a lot of minutes tonight. I'm tired," confessed Taylor, who logged nearly 35 minutes off the bench, including the entire fourth quarter and overtime, to help Brooklyn end a slide of six losses in its previous nine contests.
Taylor, back with the team after a recent demotion to the NBA's Developmental League, went 5-of-9 from the floor, handed out a pair of assists and grabbed two rebounds en route to helping the Nets score their first win in their last six visits to the Hoosier state.
All-Star Brook Lopez led the way with 25 points, rebounding matchine Reggie Evans ripped down 22 boards and Joe Johnson highlighted a 17-point night with a clutch floater in the lane with 13 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.
But ultimately, the Nets won the first of two straight games they will play without Williams behind Taylor's suprising contribution.
The Kansas alum gave Brooklyn the lead for good at 80-79 when he chucked up a no-look, shot clock buzzer-beating jumper for the Nets' first points of overtime. He added a more conventional driving layup on the next possession before Johnson iced the contest with four free throws down the stretch.
"I wasn't paying attention to the shot clock," Taylor admitted of his go-ahead basket. "I heard Joe Johnson yell, 'Shoot it!'. I just turned around and shot it. I was dribbling the opposite way from the basket."
The fortunate bucket provided just the elixir the ailing Nets needed after learning that Williams would take off until at least Feb. 19 -- Brooklyn's first game following the break -- due to what has been diagnosed as synovitis (inflammation of the the ankle joint linings).
Williams had platelet-rich plasma treatment on the ankles Monday while Watson went a dismal 0-for-7 from the floor against the Pacers in just under 19 minutes of action.
That set the stage for Taylor to prove his hard work in practice and time served in the NBDL were paying off.
"It's just basketball. I practice a lot. I'm confident in my game so when coach put me out there, I just had to be aggressive," said Taylor, who will likely see significant minutes again Wednesday night when the Nets host Denver in their pre-All-Star break swan song at the Barclays Center. "I felt like once I made some plays, I got some confidence. Coach kept me in and that just boosted my confidence (more)."
A product of Jersey City's St. Anthony's, one of the nation's top high school programs, and the former Big 12 Rookie of the Year, Taylor didn't shy away from an opportunity to display his skills against the world's best players on the NBA stage.
"I've been on pretty good teams my whole life and played in a lot of big games," he said. "But just not at this level. I'm excited to be in that situation. I like winning games like this."
So does Carlesimo, who had to be concerned about his team's recent slump, especally after Sunday's humbling 111-86 home loss to San Antonio, marking the second time in as many meetings the Nets have been thrashed by the Spurs during his tenure.
“We played, we got down, we hustled, we got to the free-throw line and we battled them on the boards,” Carelsimo said. “The only good thing about getting killed by San Antonio was the next day we beat one of the better teams in the league.”
With the win, the Nets (30-22) pulled within 3 1/2 lengths of East River rival New York in the hunt for first place in the Atlantic Division, and closed to just a half-game back of Chicago for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Williams, who was averaging 16.7 points and 7.6 assists over the Nets' first 50 games, has doubtlessly been battling through numerous nagging injuries (shoulder, hand, ankles) during the Nets' inaugural campaign in our fair borough after playing on Team USA's gold medal-winning unit in London over the summer.
Brooklyn can only hope to have Williams back at something resembling full strength later this month.
Otherwise, Watson will have to prove he can shoot better and Taylor will have to be ready for some more on-the-job training.
Hoop du Jour: Taylor was far from the Nets' only reserve contributor Monday night. Second-year G MarShon Brooks scored nine points on 4-of-8 shooting in 15 minutes. ... F Gerald Wallace had another strong all-around night, scoring 11 points, grabbing 11 boards, dishing out a pair of assists, blocking two shots and picking up a couple of steals against the Pacers. ... The Nets have won their last eight overtime games, including four in a row this season.