BROOKLYN, N.Y. - After a lackluster first half against the Portland Trail Blazers, where his team showed little energy or aggressive play, Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson left the locker room at halftime knowing his team knew exactly how he felt.
"I told them that I won't go crazy and use bad language, but I was definitely disappointed with the way we played defensively in the first half," Johnson said. "We didn't have that spirit of urgency, especially in the first half and we visited that at halftime."
Apparently, Johnson's harsh words -- relatively speaking -- hit a sore nerve.
"They really responded defensively," Johnson said after his team showed incredible defense for the second straight game at home, defeating the Blazers, 98-85. "They clamped down and played tough. It was fun to watch."
After holding the Los Angeles Clippers to 13 fourth-quarter points Friday, the Nets held the Blazers to just 15 points in the final quarter Sunday.
"We have to pick it up and play that kind of defense for the first three quarters, not just the fourth," said Joe Johnson, who scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half. "When the time came to buckle down and get stops, we did that. But it's hard on our defense to have to play hard like that in the fourth quarter."
Deron Williams had a solid 15 points, 12 assists and a career-best four blocked shots for the Nets (8-4) won their fifth straight home game and improved to 6-1 overall at their new $1 billion home, the Barclays Center. Williams was the first player to have at least 15 points, 12 assists and four blocks in a game since LeBron James did it Feb. 18, 2010 and only the 11th NBA player to achieve the feat in the last 27 years.
Brook Lopez had 15 points and eight rebounds for the Nets, and Kris Humphries had 14 points and 10 rebounds, his fourth double-double of the season, for the winners. Andray Blatche added 13 off the bench for the Nets.
"We just started getting good stops down the stretch and that got us going," said Lopez, who continued his solid play. "It got us all loaded up and enabled us to get out and get good shots in transition. I'm happy with the way we played after halftime."
Portland (6-7), which began a seven-game road trip with the loss, received 20 points from Wesley Matthews and 19 from J.J. Hickson. Rookie Damian Lillard was held to just 13 points, seven off his season average.
The Nets took command of the see-saw contest midway through the fourth quarter, scoring five straight points from the bench and nine straight overall. C.J. Watson drained a 3-pointer with 8:04 left and Reggie Evans, who once again reached double figures in rebounds in limited minutes off the bench, made two free throws, pushing the lead to 79-74 with 6:47 left. Evans finished the game with 14 rebounds in just 22 minutes.
Lopez pushed the lead to 81-74 with a thunderous slam and Johnson canned a lane jumper, capping the run and giving the Nets an 83-74 lead with 5:44 remaining.
Gerald Wallace, who missed his first seven shots from the floor, made a driving layup in the paint that gave the Nets a comfortable 89-78 lead with 3:55 left.
The Nets got the most of the early action, taking an early nine-point lead on 14-5, thanks to the sweet shooting touch of Johnson, who had seven points in a 12-0 Nets run over a 3:23 span.
"I feel like my shot is coming," said Johnson, who made 10-of-19 from the floor. "I'm just trying to take what the defense gives me. I'm getting the ball in the right places now and getting a rhythm."
"He's beginning to feel a little bit better about the way he's been playing," Coach Johnson said. "He's been showing offensively what he can do."
The Blazers found their shooting touch, thanks to Matthews and rookies Lillard and Leonard. Matthews had eight points, Lillard had six and Leonard four in the final four minutes for Portland.
Leonard, the 7-foot-1 first-round draft pick from Illinois, started in place of forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who sat out the game with back spasms. His fall-away jumper from 18 feet gave the Blazers a 27-25 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Nets were able to tie the game at 38-38 on a three-point play from Lopez.
The Blazers held the lead for the rest of the first half, with Hickson scoring on a power move in the final minute to give Portland a 50-46 at the break.
"We kind of let it all slip away from us in the fourth quarter," Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said. "Brooklyn is a big, physical team and we let them take it to us. It might have had an effect on the way we played offensively late in the game. We couldn't get anything going. Brooklyn has four All-Stars on the floor and they know how to play. They bring a lot of energy to the game and they're a very competitive team."
Leonard was the Blazers' leading scorer at the half with 12 points, while Matthews and Lillard had 11 each. Johnson paced the Nets at halftime with 17 points.
Matthews continued his torrid hand in the third quarter, scoring four straight points with 2:11 remaining in the third, as Portland led 68-63, capping a 7-0 run.
Keith Bogans canned a long 3-pointer that tied the game once again at 68-68 with 1:13 left in the period.
MarShon Brooks, who has been lost in the Nets' rotation of late, scored a driving basket as the third quarter ended, tying the game at 70-70 as the fourth quarter began.
The Nets now get to face the Knicks in the long-awaited showdown of the two New York teams that was postponed from Nov. 1 due to Hurricane Sandy.
"I think it's two really good teams at the top of the division," Coach Johnson said. "It's a game a lot of people have been waiting for. Our guys will be geared up and ready to play. We recognize how important the game is and what we have to do."
NOTES: Lillard, the surprising rookie out of Weber State, entered the game averaging 20.2 points per game. He was the first rookie to average 20 points and six assists per game in his first eight NBA games since Oscar Robertson almost 50 years ago...The Blazers are the only team in the NBA to average all five starters in double figures and the only one with three players (Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Aldridge) averaging 19 points or more so far this season...After three periods, Portland had no points whatsoever from the bench...Deron Williams had a career-best four blocked shots...Former MLB slugger Darryl Strawberry was in attendance, doing an NBA doubleheader Sunday, as Strawberry earlier attended the Knicks-Detroit game at Madison Square Garden...Actress Rosie Perez, a Brooklyn native, was also spotted in the crowd.