12:10 pm Jan. 3, 2013
The Brooklyn Nets struggled throughout December, and cost coach Avery Johnson his job in the process.
The problems were individual, with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson failing to play at close to their career norms and Kris Humphries losing his starting power forward spot, and team-wide, with extended offensive and defensive outages at key moments in games.
But in their first game in January, the Nets eliminated all of those problems at once. They did so on the road, emphatically, against the Western Conference's best team, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 110-93.
Deron Williams finished with 19 points and 13 assists. The way he earned his points were as notable as the total, as he relentlessly attacked the basket. This let him cash in and also set up his teammates for cleaner looks at the basket. The 50 percent shooting, including 52 percent from three-point range, was a natural consequence.
The primary beneficiary of those open looks was Johnson, whose 33 points were a season-high. He scored on five three-pointers, but his 11 field goals also included repeated drives to the basket. It is wasteful for the 6'7" Johnson to settle for jumpers, as he has too often this season. That rarely happened on Wednesday night.
Humphries, too, had his best game in weeks, with 11 points, seven rebounds, a block and a steal in 25 minutes. Only a late-game ankle injury soured the otherwise revelatory effort from Humphries.
How the Nets managed to win the game, collectively, was another positive sign. They raced out to a 27-11 lead, extended to 48-26 late in the first half, but it was inevitable that the Thunder would rally. By the fourth quarter, the Thunder climbed all the way back to even things at 85-85 with 7:11 to go.
At that point, the Nets completely clamped down on the Thunder, while flawlessly executing on the offensive end. Over the final seven minutes-plus, the Nets allowed an Oklahoma City team tops in the N.B.A. in offensive efficiency to score just eight points, while the Nets scored another 25 to put the game out of reach.
The Thunder, playoff-tested and defending Western Conference champs, seemed to crumble. Kevin Durant, the team's best player, even got ejected in frustration, the first ejection of his career.
An offensive explosion, given this roster, seemed inevitable. The clamping down defensively, some feared might never come, given the limitations of the talent collection, and was as surprising as any single result in the league all season.
For the Nets, now 17-15, a lighter upcoming schedule should allow them to build on this victory, which exceeded any of the team's impressive efforts during the team's strong November.
Williams, Johnson and the Nets have done it once, against fierce competition. Now they need to keep on doing it.