Brooklyn finally heating up despite depleted lineup
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
As an arctic chill sweeps across Brooklyn, our borough's injury-plagued NBA team is finally beginning to heat up.
Despite the absence of All-Star center Brook Lopez for the remainder of the season, and Deron Williams' ongoing bout with ankle issues, the Nets have finally begun to flash the immense depth that made them an Atlantic Division favorite and Eastern Conference contender prior to the season's opening tip.
With Williams missing his 12th game of the campaign Monday night, Joe Johnson poured in 23 points against his former team and Mirza Teletovic delivered 16 more off the bench as the Nets matched their season-high three-game winning streak with a gutsy 91-86 triumph over the visiting Atlanta Hawks.
The crowd of 15,326 at Barclays Center came in from the cold and watched as the Nets shook off their season-long third-quarter woes by outscoring the Hawks, 14-0, immediately after intermission.
“I have followed the team and the Brooklyn Nets have not done well in the third quarter,” noted Hawks forward Elton Brand. “Tonight, they controlled the third quarter.”
Johnson, a six-time All-Star during his days in Atlanta, spearheaded the second-half charge and snapped a streak of five consecutive games in which he had failed to crack double digits in the scoring column.
Teletovic, who was not part of coach Jason Kidd’s rotation during the season’s first month, drilled a clutch corner 3 off a cross-court feed from Johnson in the final minute to help secure the Nets’ third straight home victory.
“That’s what he does,” Kidd said of Teletovic. “We’ve always counted on him to be able to knock down the 3, and tonight he did that for us.”
Kidd, a veteran of 19 NBA seasons as a star point guard, revealed during his post-game press conference that he’d never been a part of any team that had endured as many injuries as his current Nets squad.
But the future Hall of Famer insisted that being in “Next man up mode,” since the summer exhibition slate has strengthened his team’s resolve as they remain unbeaten in the new year.
With red-hot Golden State arriving here Wednesday and the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat scheduled to visit Brooklyn Friday, the Nets must continue to work hard on both ends of the floor regardless of who is available to play on any given night.
“They’re all good teams,” Kidd said. “No matter who we play, we have to be ready.”
Williams, who has swelling in both ankles, reportedly received cortisone shots Tuesday and is unlikely to play against either the Warriors or Heat this week. Fortunately for the Nets, Shaun Livingston has provided them with a veteran presence in the backcourt when Williams has been unable to go.
Alan Anderson scored 14 points Monday night in his 14th start of the season as Brooklyn (13-21) moved into a tie for second place with Boston in the Atlantic Division, four games behind first-place Toronto.
Not to be forgotten is the reemergence of reserve power forward Andrei Kirilenko, who missed 25 games due to back spasms before rejoining his teammates on the floor last week.
The versatile Russian had eight points and four assists in a season-high 21 minutes off the bench against the Hawks as Kidd’s makeshift lineup and reserve corps warded off a late Atlanta rally.
“I think we stretched [Kirilenko] a bit,” Kidd noted when looking at the post-game box. “He will let us know if wants to come out, but I thought AK was a big plus for us, offensively and defensively.”
Perhaps lost in the shuffle a bit during the Nets’ modest win streak is the gritty efforts of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, both of whom arrived in Downtown Brooklyn with toughening their teammates up for a run at a title in mind.
Pierce, forced to start at the power forward spot, has blocked three shots in consecutive games for the first time in over a decade and Garnett ripped down 10 boards as Brooklyn improved to a gaudy 9-0 when holding opponents below 95 points this season.
“Brooklyn did an excellent job defensively and we have to give them credit,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer conceded.
Though it’s ironic that the Nets are enjoying their best run of the season without the services of Williams and Lopez, Kidd believes his team is finally beginning to find the determination and resolve that had been missing in action during the season’s first two months.
“This group is playing with a lot of effort and energy,” he said just a few weeks after calling the Nets out for getting a bit too “comfortable” with losing.
“But I think the big thing is trust,” he added. “We were playing pretty good there in those first maybe 17 minutes, and then all of a sudden we had a little lapse. … But the guys stayed together. We went into halftime down and we came out and we went on a run.”
Nothing But Net: The Nets’ previous three-game winning streak this season was from Dec. 7-12. They also won three straight at Barclays from Dec. 10-16. … The Nets held the Hawks to a season-low 15 points in the third quarter Monday night. … After making only 1-of-12 3-pointers in the first half against Atlanta, Brooklyn drilled 7-of-15 shots from long range following intermission. … Garnett hadn’t pulled down double-digit rebounds since copping a season-high 14 against at Phoenix on Nov. 15. … Due to the myriad of injuries the Nets have suffered, Kidd was forced to employ his 16th different starting lineup against the Hawks in Brooklyn’s 34th game of the season. By comparison, the Nets used only 13 different starting lineups all of last season.