The Nets emerged victorious in the “Battle of the Walking Wounded” Tuesday night at the Rock.
With the Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves missing a combined five starters, the Nets outlasted the T’Wolves, 107-105. The Nets snapped a six-game losing streak in the process.
The T’Wolves, who have lost 11 straight games, played without All-Star Kevin Love and center Darko Milicic while the Nets missed Kris Humphries, Anthony Morrow, and Damion James.
The Nets still had their two stars suited up, though. Deron Williams (18 points) knocked down the game-winning pull-up jumper with 1.7 seconds left and Brook Lopez scored a game-high 30 points.
Prior to the winning jumper, the Nets botched a play at the top of the key with 28.9 seconds left in regulation. Anthony Randolph had the chance to give the T’Wolves the lead, but Lopez ran down the play and Randolph lost control of the ball going up for a lay-up.
Avery Johnson decided nothing fancy on the final Nets possession.
“We simplified it even more, and got the ball to (Deron),” Johnson said. “He made a big shot for us. He had a really solid all-around game for us tonight.
“He’s had an impact for our offense ever since we made the trade.”
Williams’ final bucket clinched the game, but his 21 assists propelled the Nets. Williams moves into third on the Nets’ all-time single game assists list, passing Kevin Porter and Stephon Marbury. Porter holds the franchise record with 29 assists.
“I was aware of it,” Williams said. “I’m a point guard first so that’s what I try and do. This game, guys hit shots for me so it was easy.”
Williams’ career-matching night almost wasn’t enough for a win, though.
The Nets looked to have this game in the bag after Stephen Graham buried a left corner three-pointer to give New Jersey a 93-80 lead with 9:20 left in the game.
That cushion was short-lived, however, as the T’Wolves went on a 17-6 run that cut the Nets’ lead to two.
Michael Beasley (20 points, 11 rebounds) subsequently tied the game with 7.8 seconds left on a jumper that drew a goaltending call on Travis Outlaw.
“We made the game kind of interesting, not in a positive way,” said Sasha Vujacic, who notched his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Surrendering the lead came as no surprise to Johnson, who admits the team will improve on that next season.
“We haven’t been very good, and that’s [another] thing for us probably next year on how to take a 10-point lead to 20,” Johnson said. “That’s another experiment. We’ve got to try and become a team that can build on leads.”
The Nets grabbed their largest lead in the third quarter when Lopez finished an alley-oop to give New Jersey a 69-54 lead.
The Nets received balanced scoring in the first half, with eight different players cracking the scoresheet.
Lopez carried the Nets, scoring 20 points (9-of-12) and grabbing five rebounds en route to a 61-50 halftime lead.
The Nets led by as many as 13 after Outlaw drove to the rim for a lay-up with 1:44 left in the second quarter.
With Kris Humphries, Damion James, and Anthony Morrow nursing injuries, Mario West started. West signed a 10-day contract with the Nets and became the second player on a 10-day contract to garner significant playing time. Sundiata Gaines (injury) and Orien Greene (contract expired) were signed to 10-day contracts.
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton sat courtside.
A hand specialist will examine Williams’ injured right wrist so he will not make the trip to Detroit for Wednesday night’s game against the Pistons.
Although Williams admitted “it’s been a frustrating year,” he had a simple answer for why he hasn’t shut his season down despite his nagging injury.
“I like to play basketball.”