Just over two minutes into his first career playoff game, Brook Lopez stepped in front of Carlos Boozer as the Chicago power forward inched closer to the basket. Lopez did not concede any space and as Boozer got within five feet, he blocked the shot.
Less than a minute later Lopez did it again, denying Joakim Noah an easy layup.
Those two blocks established a strong defensive tone and in their first playoff game at the Barclays Center, the Nets led by as many as 28 points in a mostly dominant 106-89 victory on Saturday night.
“I was excited and very anxious because I’ve been waiting for this for a while and was very pleased with the results,” Lopez said. “The energy was electric and it was a lot of fun, especially with the team playing at a high level.”
“It feels good knowing that you can Lo (Lopez) back there to do stuff like that,” forward Reggie Evans said. “I think it’s good for him also, knowing he can get some key blocks like that. It’s great.”
Before the game veteran reserve Jerry Stackhouse sang the national anthem and Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov, while wearing a dark black suit to adhere to the “Blackout in Brooklyn” theme, addressed the crowd by saying:
“I heard there was a blackout in Brooklyn. I came to keep lights on … Thank you for passion and support.”
Then the real show started in the first postseason pro sports game played in Brooklyn since Game 7 of the 1956 World Series at Ebbets Field as a fired up Nets team came very close to setting franchise record for fewest points allowed in the first quarter and first half in their postseason history in front of a frenzied crowd that was loud from start to finish without much encouragement from the sound system.
“I think we used the words locked in and I think we locked in today,” Deron Williams said. “From shootaround, we focused on our plays and schemes. It all carried over to tonight and hopefully we can do the same thing the next night and not just our first playoff game.”
It also featured a solid performance from Brooklyn’s trio of Lopez, Williams and Joe Johnson. They combined for 59 points on 23-of-43 from the field with each player scoring in different ways.
Lopez scored 19 of his 21 in the dominant first half, heating up after a 2-for-6 start. He scored on mostly post-ups and mid-range shots while also spreading the floor after passing out of double teams.
“I have so much confidence to the point where I know he’s going to bring it every night,” Evans said. “I won’t worry about him. It’s typical Lo (Lopez), he’s here early, ready to roll and he did what he did.”
“I’ve been on Brook all year about when we get two on the ball on my penetration, just run right to the rim because he’s going to get easy baskets,” Williams said. “He’s done a great job of paying attention and learning and growing as a player.”
Williams scored 15 of his 22 in the first half, highlighting his first playoff game in three years with a reverse dunk that saw him execute a double pump move late in the third quarter that shocked Evans and had him going ‘whoa, are you serious’.
“He’s just playing at an extremely high level,” interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “He pushed the ball, he distributed, he defended and he played extremely well.”
When Williams wasn’t doing that, other highlights included a 3-pointer after doing a shoulder fake that sent Kirk Hinrich out of bounds as well as several easy transition layups, allowing the Nets to push the pace against a team they did not score 90 points against during four regular season meetings.
Johnson scored 16 points but the Nets did not need to run many sets for him because o the work performed on the defensive end in the early minute.
The Nets held the Bulls to 30.4 percent shooting in the first half and didn’t allow Chicago to score its 10th point until there was 4 ½ minutes remaining. The Nets had a three-point lead at the time but by the time the Bulls reached 20 points, the lead swelled to nine and when Chicago finally reached 30 points late in the first half, Brooklyn had a 19-point deficit.
The defensive tone established in the opening 12 minutes did not necessarily neutralize Boozer (25 points, eight rebounds) but it certainly seemed to adversely impact Noah and Luol Deng, who were a combined 5-for-17 and scored just 10 points.
“(We can be) very dangerous,” Johnson said. “This is probably the best game we played all season.”