Red-hot Nets complete sweep of rival Knicks
Lopez’s Put-Back Lifts Brooklyn to Fifth Consecutive Victory
An admitted comic book aficionado, Brook Lopez didn’t need a cape or cowl to help the Brooklyn Nets escape “Gotham” with their season-high fifth consecutive win Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, celebrating his 27th birthday, continued to soar over the competition with a timely put-back that catapulted the playoff-hopeful Nets to a dramatic 100-98 victory over the East River rival Knicks in front of 19,812 fans at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
After squandering a 16-point cushion, the Nets (34-40) found themselves deadlocked at 98-98 with just over a minute remaining after Cleanthony Early’s clutch 3-pointer pulled the league-worst Knicks even.
Deron Williams, who led Brooklyn with a game-high 26 points, tried to settle matters with a driving layup as the clock wound down. But the ball came off the rim into the capable hands of Lopez, who missed his initial tip-in attempt before re-gathering the ball and calmly laying it in for the winning points with two ticks left on the clock.
Early tried to answer with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but the ball bounded back out to the streaking Nets, who climbed into a seventh-place tie with idle Miami for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
“D-Will got a good look,” Lopez said of the game-winning possession. “He was being aggressive like he had been all night. I was right there around the rim and just tried to keep it alive.”
Keeping the Nets alive in their quest for a third straight playoff berth has fallen on Lopez’s broad shoulders.
The 7-footer from Stanford, with a penchant for DC Comics, has played The Dark Knight to a tee for Brooklyn, swooping in to provide countless late-season heroics just when it seemed the Nets would be heading home for the postseason.
“It’s always good to beat the Knicks,” said Lopez, who helped the Nets complete their first season-series sweep of New York since the 2006-07 campaign. “It’s a good birthday present.”
By winning nine of their last 11 games overall, the Nets have moved a half-game in front of ninth-place Boston in their quest to return to the playoffs for a third straight season since arriving in our fair borough.
Lopez has been at the forefront of that charge, having scored at least 20 points, including three 30-point-plus efforts, in each of his previous seven contests. Though that streak ended with a comparatively modest 18-point, seven-rebound, five-block performance against the Knicks, the result was the same, a big victory for the ever-surging Nets.
”We’re just finding ways to win ballgames,” Williams told the Associated Press. ”We start off great and have some lulls. Tonight we had two, but at the end we buckled down and did what we had to do to win.”
“I know [the Knicks] would have loved to spoil us tonight and beat us but we got the win,” added first-year Nets coach Lionel Hollins. “And whether it was one point or two points, that’s all that matters.”
Brooklyn will face plenty of stiff challenges over its final eight regular-season games, beginning with Friday night’s encounter with Atlantic Division-leading Toronto at the Barclays Center.
The Nets will then head to Atlanta on Saturday for a showdown with the conference-leading Hawks, followed by Monday’s home date against Portland.
Fortunately for Brooklyn, the Dark Knight will be there to ward off anyone who might get in the way of the Nets’ playoff plans.
For that, our citizens should be thankful.
Nothing But Net: Rookie G Markel Brown, who has emerged as one of Hollins’ go-to-guys during this stretch run toward the playoffs, finished with 14 points Wednesday night, starting alongside Williams in the Brooklyn backcourt. … F Thaddeus Young, making his second straight start after missing a pair of games with a hyper-extended knee, continued to provide a strong presence in the paint for the Nets, accumulating 12 points and nine boards in Wednesday’s win. … In an odd twist of fate, former Nets coach Jason Kidd’s Milwaukee Bucks may play a key role in whether or not Brooklyn makes the playoffs. The Nets will visit Milwaukee on April 12 for their final road game of the season, a contest that could very well determine their postseason fate. The Bucks (37-38) are currently sixth in the East. Brooklyn completes the regular season at home against Chicago and Orlando on April 13 and 15, respectively.
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