Jan 20, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
NEW YORK — The last time the Nets faced the Knicks, they were without Deron Williams and Paul Pierce due to injury, and a fully healthy New York squad thumped Brooklyn back on Dec. 5 at Barclays by a 30-point margin.
A little more than a month later, things have completely changed for both sides.
The Nets have been on a roll since the calendar turned to 2014, and they got Williams back in time to blowout the Knicks 103-80 in a Monday matinee at Madison Square Garden to improve to 7-1 in the new year.
Not that they needed him.
Brooklyn has been using excellent ball movement and riding Joe Johnson during this recent stretch, whose big early scoring performances have gotten the Nets out to some very fast starts. And the team has been stronger defensively with Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson at the guard spots, so Williams kept continuity, and made the easy decision to come off the bench.
“It was my idea,” he said afterward. “Just because we had been playing so well with that lineup, why shake things up? It doesn’t matter if I come off the bench, start, whatever. The way [Joe Johnson] has been playing in first quarters, first halves, I don’t want to disrupt that.”
Johnson had 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the game’s first 12 minutes, and the Nets had opened up an 11-point lead by the time the first quarter was finished.
Paul Pierce knows a thing or two about going from a starting to a reserve role, having had to deal with that for the first time in his career with the Nets earlier this season. It was tough on Pierce at the time, but he believes that while it will be an adjustment for Williams if it continues, he’s more than capable of figuring it out.
“I haven’t come off the bench my whole career until recently, but I think it’s a mental adjustment,” Pierce said. “It’s just something you’ve got to figure out, and it’s totally different when you’ve been playing your whole life in the starting lineup. You have to have a different mental approach, you have to be ready as soon as you come in — it’s just a different type of preparation, I think. He’s a smart player, he understands the game, and he can figure it out, whether he continues to come off the bench or until he returns to the starting lineup.”
While the Nets have gotten healthy (minus Brook Lopez, of course, who is expected to be out the rest of the season with a foot fracture), they’ve also begun to come together as a team. Andray Blatche, who played well when the game was out of hand for the second straight contest and finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, says the defense is what’s made the difference.
“It’s our effort on defense and we’re trusting one another on defense,” Blatche said. “We’re talking, and things are working out for us. We’re hanging our hat on defense first.”
Kevin Garnett echoed those remarks, and credited Jason Kidd for getting his message to the team across in terms of what the expectations are in defensive situations.
“We’re not guessing anymore,” Garnett said.
On the Knicks side, they’re missing two key rotation big men in Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire, but the problems seem to run deeper than simply available personnel. The defense is a joke at times, and Carmelo Anthony rarely gets any consistent help offensively beyond high-volume, low-percentage shooting from his teammates.
The Knicks and the Nets traded plenty of jabs through the media following the offseason acquisitions of Pierce and Garnett, but Brooklyn wouldn’t place any special emphasis on this victory afterward. Pierce was among those exchanging the playful remarks, but at this point he’s focused on how Williams’ return can help impact this team as it tries to live up to those lofty preseason expectations.
“We need Deron,” he said. “No matter how we’ve been playing, at the end of the day if we’re going to make some noise here in the East, we need what he’s able to do.”
“I know there was a lot of talk in the preseason about the rivalry, you know, the inner-city battle,” Pierce said. “But us as a team, at this point we’re looking at the big picture. We’re looking at how we’re going to develop, how we’re going to get better and how we’re going to continue to move up in the East.”
Apr 19, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Cleveland is solid, but untested.
Apr 19, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Steph being Steph.
Apr 19, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
He said after the game he felt a pop in his knee. That’s bad.
Apr 19, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
A little smack talk in advance of Bucks vs. Bulls.
Apr 19, 2015, 12:45 AM EDT
Houston outscores Dallas by 14 in 10 minutes with Howard and Harden, get outscored by four otherwise in 118-108 win
Apr 18, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Wade has the ability to hit free agency, but is choosing to stay in Miami for at least one more season.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
Rose finished with 23 points.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Leaked images are horrible.
Apr 18, 2015, 7:56 PM EDT
Brooks scored 10 points in his first shift.
Apr 18, 2015, 6:39 PM EDT
Golden State, once up 25, escapes with 106-99 win
Apr 18, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
The basketball was ugly, but this still may be a very competitive series.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT
Pierce backed up his talk with plenty of action.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
They’re still expected to play around 32 minutes each.
Apr 18, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT
Ujiri cusses at a playoff pep rally for the second straight year.
Q&A: Corey Brewer on trade from Timberwolves, his 51-point game, Harden’s MVP case, Rockets vs. Mavericks
Apr 18, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Brewer has been a key member of the rotation for the two-seeded Rockets.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Every playoff series is predicted.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
How do you feel about a lot of hack-a-Jordan for six or seven games?
Apr 18, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
With most 2014 conference-finalists eliminated, Warriors are clear favorite
Apr 18, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
Their rivalry goes back until the Dwight Howard free agent recruitment. If not earlier.
Apr 17, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
The winner in 7 games will be …
- James Harden and Dwight Howard show Mavericks what they’re missing in Rockets’ Game 1 win 7
- Derrick Rose looks like his old self as Bulls beat Bucks in Game 1 16
- Warriors strong enough to outlast Anthony Davis and Pelicans in Game 1 7
- Paul Pierce leads Wizards to overtime Game 1 win over Raptors 6
- Q&A: Corey Brewer on trade from Timberwolves, his 51-point game, Harden’s MVP case, Rockets vs. Mavericks 3
- PBT First Round Playoff Previews: Los Angeles Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs 10
- Why the 2015 NBA playoffs feel wide open – but probably shouldn’t 6
- PBT Extra: Houston, Dallas simply do not like each other 3