In First Game Together, #Nets Hardly Looked Like It

Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Prior to Saturday night’s tip-off at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, Deron Williams tweeted “First pre-season game finally sheeeshhhhh.”

Yes, this was the Nets first preseason game. It was also the first time that Williams would share a basketball court with Joe Johnson. And most notably, it was the first basketball game in Brooklyn Nets franchise history.

Even still, the Nets looked nothing like a basketball team that was playing its first game together.

Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall

The Nets defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime by a final score of 108-105 in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall on Saturday night. Brook Lopez and C.J. Watson each scored 19 points and led the way for the Nets in a game that showed a team whose versatility could make them one of the best in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

“We utilized all of our strengths,” Avery Johnson said after the game. “Brook inside… Shooting on the perimeter with all three of our perimeter guys, posting up with Wallace and Joe. And Deron, obviously doing a little bit of everything.”

And on the other side of the ball? “I was really pleased with how we were locked in defensively,” he added.

After removing his starters late in the third quarter, Avery Johnson saw his second unit squander what was a 15-point fourth quarter lead. To win the game, the Nets needed an overtime period and—with 27 seconds remaining on the game clock—a 16-foot jump shot from Andray Blatche.

Although preseason games don’t count for much, this game, counts for something.

Coming into tonight’s game, coach Johnson let it be known that he believed that his players needed to get acclimated to playing with one another and planned on using this game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

And if tonight was a test for the Nets starters, they probably would have received somewhere between an A and an A-minus.

The Nets played the first quarter at a relentless pace but were able to hold the 76ers to just 17 points. Defensively, Kris Humphries showed and recovered on pick-and-rolls and both Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez didn’t miss defensive assignments and rotations.

On the offensive end, Williams shouldered the load after Johnson was forced to the bench after picking up his second personal foul with 5:31 remaining. Williams made a conscious effort to push the ball up the floor and the Nets were able to get quick buckets.

In the second quarter, however, the Nets were able to slow the pace of the game down and feature Brook Lopez in the interior. Playing with C.J. Watson and Mirza Teletovic, Lopez was featured in the post and scored 10 points in the second quarter alone.

And in the third quarter, once Johnson was reinserted, he and Williams alternated as ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls and found one another for open, uncontested three-pointers. The duo had synergy and hardly resembled a pairing that was playing its first game together.

After the game, Joe Johnson had an explanation. “The thing about us, I think, is that we all are a little different,” he said. “We don’t do the same things on the court.” According to him, that allows the Nets to effectively play off of one another.

By the end of the third quarter, the Nets opened up a 15-point lead and were comfortably ahead, 79-64. By early in the fourth quarter, Johnson removed all of his starters and allowed his second unit to determine the outcome of the game. C.J. Watson, Carleton Scott, Josh Childress, Mirza Teletovic, and Andray Blatche played most of the fourth quarter and overtime, and they allowed the Sixers to erase the deficit.

For the Sixers, Nick Young led a spirited rally in the final quarter of regulation. In the fourth, he scored 15 points and helped to force overtime. But in the decisive period, Blatche—after struggling for most of the night—put the Nets ahead for good when his 16-foot jumper gave them a 106-105 lead with 27 seconds to play.

Nick Young would miss his final two shots and C.J. Watson’s made a pair of free-throws to seal the game.

Although the Nets second unit left a bit to be desired, the cohesiveness and chemistry that the first unit showed was evident to all in attendance. Williams and Johnson each barked instructions on offense, while Wallace and Humphries effectively gave directives on the defensive end.

Though the Sixers were playing without two of its starters in Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson, Saturday night’s result is a positive that the Nets can build on.

“This was a good first game for us,” Deron Williams said after the game. “There were a lot of positives.”

For the Nets, Johnson scored 13 points, going 5-9 from the field, while Williams recorded 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists.

The Sixers Nick Young scored a game-high 21 points and Jrue Holiday contributed 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 9 assists.

The Nets will have Sunday off before they experience yet another first—this one, the first NBA game played in Barclays Center. Beginning at 7:30pm on Monday night, the Nets will battle the Washington Wizards and will have the opportunity to show that tonight’s positive result was not an aberration.

Moke Hamilton is the Executive Editor of SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton, and be sure to follow @SNYNets for the latest on the Brooklyn Nets.