10:41 am Nov. 14, 2012
The template for the Brooklyn Nets entering this season was simple.
On offense, get plenty of points and bushels of assists from Deron Williams, the team's best player and point guard. Let Brook Lopez score in the paint every chance he could. Watch Joe Johnson thrive within that offense, no longer the focal point of defensive opposition. Supplement these three with occasional helpings of Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and a deep bench.
Through the team's first five games, Williams and Lopez have held up their ends. But it took until Monday night's 114-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers for Johnson to come alive, and to see the Nets follow the template completely.
Johnson shot just 36 percent over the first five games, totaling more than 14 points just once. He was an oddly disconnected part of what was expected to be a flowing offense, though it was perhaps unrealistic to expect that immediately from a team constructed over the summer.
Whatever the reason, Johnson thrived in the fourth quarter Monday night, scoring 16 of his 25 points in the final period.
And with that, the Nets did exactly what was expected of them. Williams had 26 points and 10 assists. Lopez scored 23 on 10-for-14 shooting. The bench outscored Cleveland's bench, 28-6. That helped the Nets to overcome a Cleveland offensive onslaught that included 35 points from Anderson Varejao, of all people, along with 34 points from Kyrie Irving.
The two totals are part of the same weakness, which is interior defense. Varejao, a center, scored whenever he wanted, shooting a ludicrous 16-for-21 from the field, almost all on shots right near the basket. Irving shot 9-for-19, but attempted, and made, 14 free throws, reflecting both his ability to get to the basket at will, and the subpar defense that awaited him when he got there.
Ultimately, the Nets hope and believe that if Johnson, Williams and Lopez are scoring at the levels they are capable of reaching, the team will win a lot of shootouts just like this. Whether that will hold true against better teams than the 2-6 Cavaliers remains to be seen. But the Nets, at least, got to see that full working plan in action for the first time.