Saturday, March 5, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Nets 137, Raptors 136
By Ian Whittell
Recap | Box score | Photos
WHAT IT MEANS: Can we play ALL our games in London? The Nets are undisputed kings of Europe after sweeping the two-game series against the Raptors in Britain. More relevant, New Jersey is 19-43 for the season, 2-9 against Atlantic Division opponents. Oh, and 1-1 in triple-OT games this season.
The Nets' 65 first-half points were a season-high as they led by three -- helped by 8-for-15 shooting from 3-point range, including 4-for-4 from Sasha Vujacic. Yet it took a concerted effort from the Nets to force the overtime period as they trailed by seven halfway through the fourth quarter.
After leading by three late in regulation, a missed Vujacic free throw proved costly with DeMar DeRozan forcing with a twisting layup. In a tight first overtime, Vujacic re-discovered his shooting touch with a 27-foot 3-pointer, tying the score at 119 and forcing another extra period. In the second OT, an uncharacteristic Deron Williams turnover presented Andrea Bargnani with the opportunity to hit a 3 that put Toronto 126-124 ahead with 31 seconds left. Williams made up for that slip with the tying 13-footer.
In the third OT, the Nets led by seven with less than two minutes to play before a collapse which culminated in Leandro Barbosa hitting a 3 with 20 seconds on the clock for a 136-135 Toronto lead. Travis Outlaw won the game with two free throws.
SASHA STARTS: The concussion suffered by Anthony Morrow in Friday's win meant that, for just the third time in his Nets career, Vujacic was handed a start. Did he make the most of the opportunity? After sinking his first five 3-point attempts it certainly looked as though that would be the case but, as the Nets' play became more sloppy in the second half, so did Vujacic. Wide-open shots he had made in the first half were missed, yet he still finished with 25 points on 7-for-16 shooting -- 6-for-9 from 3-point range -- in 47 minutes. By the way, Vujacic is now 1-2 as a starter.
STAR OF THE GAME: Brook Lopez. Kris Humphries for a second straight night was none too shabby (20 points, 17 boards in 53 minutes) but Lopez's eight blocks were, by three, a career high. His all-round game -- 34 points and 14 rebounds before fouling out in the second overtime -- was the really relevant statistic surrounding his night's work. Remember what owner Mikhail Prokhorov told ESPNNewYork? The two most important positions in the NBA are point guard and center and he has them both covered. Care to argue based on tonight?
NET GAINES: Former Raptor Sundiata Gaines may prove to be one of the big winners of the London trip. His contribution off the bench on Friday (seven points and two assists in 8 minutes) was followed by 23 minutes in the second game, with Avery Johnson leaving him in the lineup over decisive stretches. A huge rebound and buzzer-beatng shot with two minutes left in the second overtime summed up Gaines' hustle.
Gaines, who has had spells with Toronto and the Minnesota Timberwolves this season, signed a 10-day contract with the Nets on Feb. 28 and will fly home to an uncertain future, even if his London performances must have helped his cause. "Not yet," said Gaines when asked if he had received indication of if he would remain with the Nets. "I'll take it one day at a time. I'll leave it up to the organization and everybody in the front office to take care of that. My main thing is to get the teams wins. I just want to play hard."
LOST IN TRANSLATION: This was a "regular" regular-season game, even if the crowd cheering big plays from both teams made for a little unusual atmosphere. Other distinctions were more subtle. The PA announcer, for example, was instructed to explain rules such as jump balls, 24-second violations, when and why players were awarded free throws and what happens when the ball hits the back of the backboard. The NBA, as it does on international occasions, also had two players, Bargnani and Humphries, say a brief thank you to the crowd before tip-off. Humphries, as has been the case all week on and off the court, seemed to enjoy being center of attention.
R AND R: After two "home" games, 3,000 miles from their arena and triple OT Saturday, a couple of days rest and relaxation are not only needed but, during the whirlwind of an NBA regular season, would be a rare luxury. The Nets next play on Wednesday and Gaines admitted: "It's nice to have that break. I hope they give us a couple of days off because its a long trip back to the States." Not that there were too many complaints from the Nets staff -- publicly at least. "It's definitely been a great experience," Gaines added. "Everybody has enjoyed it."
MORE OF THE SAME? Yet again, the league has floated the idea that one day there may be a European division as a fully-functioning part of the NBA. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver repeated David Stern's recent pronouncement that it could happen "within 10 years" and went on to explain: "We would do it as a division so that we would probably have an unbalanced schedule but at least if we were to have, let's say, four teams in Europe, those teams could play each other more than they play teams in the continental United States." Deron Williams, says the travel would make the notion difficult. "I think that's the biggest worry," he said. "How you would go about doing it, coming over here for a week, two weeks, how it would work."
UP NEXT: After flying home Sunday, the Nets open a four-game home stand Wednesday with the visit of the Golden State Warriors. The L.A. Clippers, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls (currently the top two seeds in the East) follow over the next eight days.