Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK — After struggling for most of the month of December, the Nets have turned things around. And if you still need evidence of that, look no further than the third quarter of Friday night’s 99-79 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Though the season is just 36 games old, under Avery Johnson, the Nets developed the reputation of a team that coughs up big leads and plays curiously poor third quarters.
That certainly wasn’t the case on Friday night.
Entering Friday night, Joe Johnson was questionable, but he shrugged off his sickness to turn in a spirited effort, totaling 19 points, grabbing four rebounds, and dishing three assists.
Despite losing Gerald Wallace after a nasty spill that he took just six minutes into the game, the Nets got 40 total points from its bench and took control of the game in the third quarter.
Trailing by seven at the half, the Nets put together two spirited runs in the third that helped the team cease control of the game. At the beginning of the quarter, the Nets went on a 10-0 run to recapture the lead and even after the Suns took it back, the Nets closed the third on a 14-6 run.
They took an eight point lead into the fourth quarter and never looked back. The Nets would push the lead to as many as 22 points and would win by 20.
For this team, we’ve seldom witnessed easy home victories, so Brooklyn’s faithful got a rare treat.
What was most impressive about the Nets second half against the Suns, though, was its defense. After allowing the Suns to shoot 22-for-41 in the first half, the Nets buckled down and held the Suns to just 9-for-38 shooting over the game’s final two periods.
Amazingly, Friday night’s game was the first time the Nets have held an opponent under 80 points since the club’s Nov. 23 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Barclays Center. And that they did it without the team’s best perimeter defender in Wallace was most impressive.
Under Carlesimo, the Nets were hoping for a reversion to the club they were in November.
Now, after going 5-for-5 in January, the club has already matched its win total for the entire month of December. Mission accomplished.
Brook Lopez has been the most consistent player for the Nets this season, but he had a rare off night, converting just 5-for-16 of his shots and grabbing eight rebounds. Reggie Evans contributed 15 rebounds and Joe Johnson and Deron Williams (15 points) combined with Joe Johnson to give Carlesimo 34 points from his starting back court.
All in all, although Friday night’s victory came over one of the NBA’s lowly teams, the Nets feel good about where they are.
“We know we have some momentum right now,” Joe Johnson said after the game. “We have been playing some good basketball of late, but we still have a long way to go.”
When asked why the team has been so successful under Carlesimo, Joe wasn’t sure, but he also wasn’t complaining.
“We have just bought into what [Carlesimo] wants us to do on both ends of the floor,” he said. “We are trying to get back to being defensive minded and being the team we were when the season first started. Guys have been playing well.”
Marcin Gortat in particular noticed that the Nets came out much better in the second half. “In the second half, a totally better Brooklyn Nets team came out,” he said. “We struggled getting scores and we had too many turnovers… If each one of us could have made one or two more shots, we could have won the game.”
They didn’t but nobody in Brooklyn is complaining.
– With the win, the Nets have won three consecutive games by 20 or more points for the first time in franchise history. What’s more interesting, though, is that each of the three wins came by exactly 20 points. Heading into Friday night’s game, the Nets defeated the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 5 by a final score of 113-93 and the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 8 by a score of 109-89.
To complete the trifecta, the Nets defeated the Phoenix Suns on Friday night by a final score of 99-79.
– The Nets are off on Saturday and will return to action when they host the Indiana Pacers on Sunday evening at 6:00 P.M. The game should be a good test, as the Nets have put together wins over mostly sub-par teams over the past two weeks. The Pacers, though, are 12-3 over their last 15 games and currently lead the NBA’s Central division.
– On Friday night, the New York Knicks lost to the Chicago Bulls, so the Nets now trail the Knicks by just two games for the lead in the Atlantic division. The two teams will meet for the final time in the regular season on Jan. 21 at Madison Square Garden.