Brook Lopez had a monster game in the Brooklyn Nets' landmark 96-89 overtime win over the New York Knicks on Monday night, turning in a team-high 22 points on 9-for-20 shooting, 11 rebounds (including seven on the offensive glass) and five blocked shots in 38 minutes of work. With the eyes of the basketball world trained on the inaugural intra-NYC matchup at the Barclays Center, Lopez looked every bit like the max-contract-worthy big man and standard-bearer that Brooklyn's front office expected him to be.
Well, except here:
There, he looked like the sort of goofball we've long since come to expect Brook and his twin brother Robin to look like. Even in the heat of a much-hyped battle for New York, some things never change.
Happily for Nets fans, though, some things do. After racking up a miserable 58-172 record over the team's final three seasons in New Jersey, the new-look Brooklyn bunch now stands at 9-4, atop the Atlantic Division, thanks in large part to Lopez's strong post work, the brilliant slice-and-dice floor game of $98.8 million point guard Deron Williams (14 assists on Monday night, as many as the Knicks had as a team, all leading to either at-rim buckets or 3-pointers, according to ESPN.com's Beckley Mason), and timely second-unit contributions from noted irritant Reggie Evans (14 rebounds and some cherry flops in 17 1/2 minutes) and newfound corner marksman Jerry Stackhouse (11 of his 14 points came after halftime, including five in overtime).
Just about everything about this Nets team is different, including, as Y! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski noted, the fact that they now have an actual home court advantage against the Knicks. As the longest-tenured Net, Lopez appreciates just how much the world has turned, according to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix:
[Lopez's] message to his teammates, [coach Avery] Johnson and general manager Billy King was the same: I want to be here.
"I made that point to everyone," Lopez said. "At no point did I want to be anywhere else. I stated my case."
He's here now, the leading scorer (19.2 points per game) on a (gasp!) winning team. Hype aside, Monday's victory was a legitimate statement for the Nets. Miami remains the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, but the spots below the Heat are completely up for grabs. Boston has struggled to incorporate all its new parts. Without Danny Granger, Indiana has fallen back to the pack. Beating the Knicks didn't just put the Nets right behind Miami in the standings; it may have validated them, for now, as the second-best team in the conference.
"We just keep improving," Lopez said. "It's scary how good we can be."
And, as the 24-year-old pivot continues to work his way back into form after missing 61 games due to a foot injury last season, how good he can look. Photographic evidence to the contrary.