AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Brook Lopez was unstoppable. Never mind that he still wasn’t a presence on the boards. The Nets’ big man was a giant man in the middle on offense and was taking advantage of his size against the Pistons.
Lopez appeared to be on his way to a 50-point night, should have had mid 40s easily and the Nets should have enjoyed what would have been one of their most gratifying wins of the season instead of a 116-109 loss.
But the ball stopped going to Lopez. Just stopped. The Pistons went zone, fronted Lopez, did everything to make sure he didn’t get the ball, but the Nets still have to get the ball to Lopez and let him operate. This was a night when Lopez was operating.
He took the ball from the baseline and went inside and scored. He tried to dunk everything. He was 14-for-17 – with six and-1s – and had 39 points with 9:50 to go in the game. Nine minutes and 50 seconds later, Lopez still had 39 points and just three more shot attempts. One of them was an offensive rebound of his own miss.
This was not the way this game should have ended for Lopez and the Nets. Everyone in the visiting locker room knows it. Even the fans sitting right next to the Nets’ bench knew it. They were screaming out to get the ball to Lopez.
But the Nets couldn’t get the ball to Lopez. They were relying on jump shots, and we’ve all seen what happens when the Nets do that. It doesn’t end pretty, and this one certainly didn’t.
“We kind of lost the game by not getting the ball inside,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Brook had an outstanding offensive game, career high in points. Normally in the second half he’ll tend to not have the same type of energy. So we challenged at halftime to not finish the game with 22 points. He was trying to make a statement there, and that’s what we’ve been looking for all year.
“In the last six, seven, eight minutes of the game we didn’t get him the ball. Because of that we struggled offensively.”
Story of the Nets’ season, but you feel bad for Lopez because you saw how much he wanted this game and how he relished carrying his team. The Nets were without Deron Williams, Kris Humphries and Anthony Morrow.
It was Lopez’s team and Lopez’s game. He was looking for the ball more than ever, attacking, being aggressive every time down the floor. Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vajucic, Mario West, Ben Uzoh and Travis Outlaw just couldn't get Lopez the ball.
He didn’t do anything wrong -– except for one thing: he has to stick around after his best offensive game as a pro and address the media.
We know he’s frustrated beyond belief. You could tell with some of his reactions on the court and the way he shook his head as he was walking off that he was disgusted. He’s an emotional guy who would rather not say anything when he feels that way, but as a captain and team leader he has to stand up and talk.
He did plenty of talking with his game against the Pistons, and it’s a tribute to Lopez to still be playing this way in game 78 and with the Nets missing three starters.
Lopez has not missed a game, and he was out there playing as if it was early in the season, accepting the challenge Johnson put before him. Lopez just wanted to keep it going. But the ball stopped finding him.
“It’s accurate,” Johnson said. “We just didn’t find him. Hopefully we’ll find him in the next game in that situation.”
The night Lopez was having, you have to find him – no matter what.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)