Josh Newman, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK — A marvelous second half defensive effort and a 12-2 run over the final 3:58 of the game helped propel the Brooklyn Nets past the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers, 86-76, at Barclays Center to snap a two-game losing streak on Friday evening.
Brook Lopez finished with 26 points, five rebounds and three blocks, while Joe Johnson went for 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting in 39 minutes. His 3-pointer from the left baseline with with 1:42 to play put the Nets up 82-74 and all but iced it.
The Nets held the Clippers to 30.3 percent shooting in the second half and just 40.3 percent for the game.
For the Clippers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin each finished with 14 points, but neither scored in the fourth quarter. Paul added nine assists, while Griffin chipped in eight rebounds.
“I thought our guys, they were locked in from start to finish,” Nets head coach Avery Johnson said. “We had one of our better second halves. The third quarter has been our Achilles heal.”
Lopez comes up big again
That game-ending 12-2 run was kick-started by Lopez. With the Nets up 75-74, he scored four straight points after he drove through the lane for a layup and then nailed a running hook after Paul missed a 12-foot jumper down the other end. All of a sudden, the Nets led 79-74 with 3:03 to play, and they never looked back.
“It was great, the crowd was fantastic and our guys are clicking,” Lopez said. “It’s team basketball, bottom line, defensively especially. We came out with energy and we really played defense for almost the first time this season.”
While his rebounding continues to be a sore subject, Friday was the third 20-point, 3-block game of the season for Lopez and no one will deny he has been an anchor on both ends of the floor during this 7-4 start.
Johnson breaks out
A lot has been made about about Joe Johnson’s shooting struggles during this young season. A career 44.3 percent shooter from the field, the six-time All-Star shooting guard is shooting just 36.4 percent this season. To make matter worse, he’s averaging a just 14.9 points per game—his his lowest output in almost a decade.
On Friday, Johnson shot 8-for-12 and looked very comfortable throughout, especially down the stretch, when he and Lopez made big baskets to help propel the Nets to victory.
“It was more so just taking my time, it wasn’t anything special or anything different that we did,” Johnson said. “I just knocked down more shots than normal. You get into a little rhythm, I had a couple plays run, I got a chance to work 1-on-1 off the dribble, they went and I just tried to find the gaps and open spots.”
In the second half, Johnson shot 3-for-5, with all five attempts being quality looks, including the aforementioned corner trey to ice it.
For once, a good third quarter
A notoriously bad third quarter team, the Nets were able to change that on Monday evening and they did so against one of the NBA’s best teams.
The Nets won the third quarter, 23-16, while shooting 10-for-19 (52.6 percent). More so, the Big 3 of Lopez, Johnson and Deron Williams all played well.
Lopez scored 10 of his 26, Johnson hit two of his three shots and Williams added seven of his 11. The three shot a combined 9-for-16 for the quarter.
Williams and Johnson both played the entire quarter, while Lopez played all but two minutes, 24 seconds.
Defensively, the 16 points the Nets gave up is the second fewest they have yielded in any third quarter this season.
“We definitely played good defensively, especially in the second half,” Williams said. “We were really active, Brook anchored us in the back, had some big blocks for us. We had a game plan for certain guys and we stuck to that.”
Evans continues to pleasantly surprise
Earning a mere $1.622 million this season and acquired in exchange for a second round draft pick from the Clippers, it’s fair to say that the Nets have gotten plenty out of Reggie Evans.
In just 22 minutes off the bench, Evans hauled in 12 rebounds and had at least an equal number of hustle plays. Friday night was his third game this season in which he grabbed at least 10 rebounds and his sixth with at least eight.
Evans is averaging just 17.7 minutes per game, but hauls in 7.0 boards per game in that time. He is also ninth in the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes with 19.0.
That’s a good return for a second round draft pick, and for Evans, it’s not too shabby considering there were many who wondered whether or not he would be able to crack Avery Johnson’s rotation back when training camp began in October.
Griffin may be known for his tremendous dunking ability thanks to his athleticism, but that athleticism will also lend itself to shot-blocking as well, Just ask Williams.
With 17.6 seconds to play in the first quarter, Williams, who has sneaky leaping ability, drove the lane and attempted to posterize Griffin, but Griffin met him at the rim and emphatically denied him.
The sight of Williams soaring through the air drew “oohs” and “aahs” from the Barclays Center crowd, but Griffin’s block helped to ignite a Clippers fast break.
Williams is now 14-4 in his career against Paul….The Nets are now 5-1 at Barclays Center. The last time they started 5-1 at home was 2002-03 when the then-New Jersey Nets started 5-0, then dropped their sixth home game to the Avery Johnson-coached Dallas Mavericks….In giving up just 76 points to the Clippers, the Nets, viewed as an iffy defensive team in the preseason, have now held six of their last eight opponents under 100. Coming into Friday, they were eighth in the NBA in opponent points per game at 93.7.
“Brook was a monster tonight, Joe was great as well. It looked like Joe finally got into a rhythm offensively, Brook’s been great for us all year. We’ve been able to count on him in every game. It’s definitely great to have weapons on nights like this.”–Williams on his teammates picking him up on a night he shot 3-for-10 from the field. In his last five games, Williams has shot just 33 percent. (23-for-69)
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA.