Brook Lopez wants to keep playing basketball.
"I don't have a social life. I like hanging out with my guys here," Lopez said. "i didn't want the season to end."
The Brooklyn Nets' win Monday night to stay alive started with the team's frontcourt. Sure, Deron Williams had 23 points and 10 assists, but it was Lopez and his crew of Brooklyn bigs that guided the team. Each player played exactly the role would might have expected from them in an ideal world: Lopez was the star, capable of beating his man for points and working together with Williams for points. Reggie Evans was the vicious rebounder, nabbing 12 boards - one per every two minutes he played. And when the game was close in the fourth quarter, Andray Blatche spazzed out for an offensive spurt, scoring 10 fourth-quarter points. Kris Humphries was also effective, with eight points and six rebounds.
Lopez, now 25 and in his fifth year, has been strong in every game for the Nets, culminating in his 28-point, 10-board Monday night to keep his team alive. It was his fifth 20-point effort in the playoffs in as many games, each one seemingly more impressive than the next.
Although Joakim Noah is hobbled and Nazr Mohammed is aged, Lopez's counterparts still should be a formidable defensive front, as it's where both guys earn their bread. Lopez hasn't minded. His jump shot has proven to be pure, a weapon on the pick-and-pop with Deron Williams. His post game has finesse and touch. One wouldn't describe Lopez as overly powerful or speedy for a player at his position, but he's shown the ability to bully with strength and flit by with quickness on moves at various times. And while his rebounding game isn't highly touted, he had six offensive rebounds Monday.
Here's what P.J. Carlesimo had to say about Lopez in a post-game presser:
He's played extremely well. He's played excellent, he hasn't played good, he's played extremely well on both ends. I like being crabby: sometimes he's got 20 points and five blocked shots, and I say why didn't you get more rebounds. He's played a complete game and I think he's been very aggressive, which is good. Its not like he wasn't a good player before this year, but he's really taken it to another level. Doing it in the playoffs validates it a little bit more. Making the all-star game was great, but this is solidifying his position. He's had an all-NBA year. I forget who votes, whether you guys vote or we vote, but I think he's got a legitimate shot to be on all three teams.
Debating whether or not this is Lopez' best year is a toughie. Statistically, it might not be - this season wasn't his best in scoring or rebounding. But its his first trip to the playoffs, and he's seizing it wholeheartedly. He's not just a talented comic book geek - he's the featured guy on a playoff team.
And Lopez himself played it down, answering questions with a chuckle and a sense of humor.
On his series: Its just the way the game's been going. We've been playing through our offense, running through it well, and guys have been giving me great looks where Ive been able to finish around the rim. i'm trying to finish more around the rim and trying to shoot less jumpers.
On whether he considers himself a star: I consider myself a player on the Brooklyn Nets. I'm there with my team. I want to be known as a guy who's a great teammate, and I want to back them up.
Tom Thibodeau was brief when asked:
"Hew as huge, he had a huge night," Thibodeau said. "We've got to come up with a better answer."
But Lopez wasn't the only guy doing big things in the frontcourt. As noted, he was joined by several other players who had strong nights.
Reggie Evans was his typical grimy self, his entire purpose for existence seemingly dependent on every descending rebound. He had 10 of them in the first half, and although he didn't play much in the second, he added two more, finishing with 12 in 24 minutes. As a team, the Nets had 17 offensive rebounds on 42 misses - that's a 40 percent offensive rebound rate - and outrebounded the Bulls 44-33.
Thibodeau repeatedly harped on how his team got killed on the glass in his postgame presser:
That's the difference in the game, the rebounding... We didn't play our best, the rebounding was a big problem, and defensively we've got to get it together... Its all tied together. containment of the ball, reckless gambles, smalls not sinking and filling, not getting to bodies, not driving back, not jumping, we've got to do all those things...If you defend fairly well and you give a team a second and a third crack at it, its hard to win.
We have to gang-rebound. It's not going to always fall on Jo or Taj. our smalls have to get in there. Collectively as a team we've got to do a lot better. You've got to hit and you've got to fight.
And somehow, the biggest night out of the Nets' bigs was by Andray Blatche. Blatche was a true reclamation project for the Nets this year, a player whose NBA career had seen him discussed more for comical off-court issues and a penchant for receiving lapdances on a certain day for the week than for his off-kilter, yet somewhat effective method of getting buckets. He's 6'11, but the center who never went to college has a game sometimes more reliant on funky dribbling and a streaky shooting touch from 15 feet than back-to-the-basket play. It was frustrating enough that the Wizards told him to stop showing up to games during the 2011-2012 season, then they amnestied him when the offseason hit.
Monday? It was all working. The Bulls had cut the lead to one, but Blatche became the Nets go-to, scoring six straight Brooklyn points on some herky-jerky drives to the basket that ended with pull-ups anywhere from eight to 15 feet. And he drew two fouls, one flagrant. When all was said and done, the Nets had regained a lead that the Bulls couldn't come back from. Carlesimo would stick with Blatche down the stretch alongside Lopez.
Here's what Carlesimo had to say about Blatche post-game:
I thought he was doing a good job... I just thought he was playing very well. the biggest thing he was doing was his shot selection was very good. He didn't settle for jump shots unless the shot clock was really coming down on him, he got to the basket, he got some rebounds, he got five boards, he was playing very well.