The New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors just capped off the NBA’s first ever regular season games in Europe. With back to back games at the O2 arena in London, the home of the 2012 Olympic Basketball games, the Nets and Raptors left a good first impression on those in attendance. Not surprisingly, both games featured a significantly more boisterous crowd than any seen, possibly ever, in New Jersey. With the NBA managing to sell out both games, it is very likely we will be seeing more NBA games played across the pond in the future.
The Nets should be encouraged about their planned move to Brooklyn, after the team’s first two wins with newly acquired point guard Deron Williams. With D-Will, the Nets should be an entertaining team in the future, and a move to a market that seems interested in basketball, should be a good move for the team. While it can be argued that the Nets struggles in the stands can be attributed to their lousy record in recent years, the Nets weren’t even a hot ticket when they were running and gunning with Jason Kidd (as a side note, the first dunk in that clip was at my Bar Mitzvah). In 2002, I went with my Dad to game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, where my Dad bought lower section tickets at the box office about 45 minutes before tip off. If a team can’t sell out a conference finals game when they are the number one seed, they probably should move.
While Friday’s win represented the first success in the D-Will era for the Nets, it was Saturday’s 63 minute thriller that stands out. David Stern must be doing back flips, after managing to turn a meaningless end of the season match up, between two struggling teams, into a trailblazing thriller that may go down as the game that brought the NBA to Europe. While the spotlight coming into the game may have been on Williams, as the lone All-Star, it was center Brook Lopez who made a statement with his play. After snoozing through the first 61 games of the season as arguably the laziest rebounding big man in the NBA, Lopez finally provided the presence he is capable of, going for 14 rebounds and a whopping 8 blocks, to go along with 34 points in 47 minutes. While the big man has been showing his shooting touch all season, it was delightful to see Lopez active and effective in the paint. Fortunately for Lopez, Nets fans may not have noticed his poor rebounding numbers after years of looking at box scores featuring another 7 foot twin from Stanford.
Aside from Lopez, it was Vujacic who stepped up big time. “The Machine” shot 6-9 from downtown, including a dagger in double overtime, on a brilliantly drawn up inbounds play, which featured Williams, Farmar and Vujacic all curling off screens, with Vujacic nailing a bomb, which brought the game into triple overtime.
Kris Humphries continued his stellar play with 20 points and 17 rebounds in 53 minutes of action. With rookie Derrick Favors now in Utah, Humphries is finally getting the playing time he deserves, and has not disappointed. My friend Ben has been claiming all season that Humphries is a light version of Blake Griffin. While I laughed it off at first, after seeing some impressive athleticism by Humph in recent games, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.
While the Raptors are easily the worst defensive team in the league, which is harsh criticism coming from someone who has been watching D’Antoni ball the last two and a half seasons, the Raptors showed they have some weapons to be excited about. 2006 number 1 draft pick Andrea Bargnani showed off his impressive touch going for 35 points off 4-7 shooting from down town. As a 7 footer who can play all three front court positions, Bargnani seems like he is on his way towards developing into a go-to player. While he will never rebound sufficiently for a player his size, with a young core featuring athletic players such as Amir Johnson and Ed Davis, Bargnani may be able to focus more on his perimeter strengths.
DeMar DeRozan may be stepping up to be the running mate for Bargs that Toronto has been hoping for. The 21 year old swing man out of USC, frequently displayed his athleticism on the break, and helped keep his team in the game going for 30 points, including several clutch hoops and free throws in the three overtimes. What was most impressive about DeRozan, was that he was the only player on the floor who did not seem overly fatigued in the third overtime, despite playing a whopping 54 minutes.
Lost among the impressive statistics brought on by 63 minutes of basketball, was Deron Williams impressive play. The point guard led the Nets to their second win since the trade with his fifth consecutive double-double, going for 21 points and 18 assists. Williams has brought a presence at point guard that the Nets haven’t seen since the departure of Kidd, instantly making the Nets a watchable basketball team. While the Nets may be out of the playoff race, D-Will has given Nets fans a reason to get excited, and most importantly, a reason to watch the games.