Nets prevail in new arena opener
NEW YORK (AP)
The chant was 55 years in the making, delayed a couple days by disaster, and delivered by a sold-out crowd that wasn't missing this party no matter what it took to get there.
Those were the lyrics of a rocking return to major pro sports.
"That gave me jitters, man. Chills," guard Joe Johnson said. "I know that these fans want the best for this team. All they want from us is to work hard and give them a show."
A crowd of 17,732 that included entertainers Jay-Z, a part-owner, and wife Beyonce chanted the borough's name a few times during the game and loudly at the end, celebrating the name on the front of the shirt much more than the back.
And with good reason. Brooklyn hasn't had a team to cheer since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957.
Nets coach Avery Johnson said there was so much that was special about the game, which came two nights after their scheduled opener that was postponed because travel around the city was wrecked by Superstorm Sandy.
"Let's just start with the fact that we're in Brooklyn now and it's a big difference," Johnson said. "You saw the crowd tonight, even under the circumstances. Not only did we have a sellout, they were into the game."
C.J. Watson finished with 15 points and Joe Johnson had 14 for the Nets, who needed a home as badly as Brooklyn needs a team, and Avery Johnson said it's close to a perfect match.
"We've had two games in which we've been in the same situation, playing really well at times and then we fall behind. But we've fought hard against Indiana and the Brooklyn Nets, which are going to be two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. That gives us a lot of confidence," guard Jose Calderon said.
The Nets pulled it out after Toronto got within two with 1:17 left, an uplifting end to a difficult week for the city and the franchise.
They were scheduled to open Thursday against the Knicks, but that was postponed at the request of Mayor Michael Bloomberg because travel to Barclays Center would have been difficult and perhaps dangerous with so much of the city's mass-transit system not operating.
The Nets, still practicing in East Rutherford, NJ this season, were forced to move their midweek workouts to Barclays Center after their practice center was flooded and lost power. Some team members were forced into hotels, and Williams said his power was only restored Friday.
"It was good to finally be out here with the guys because we've been waiting since the last game of last season for this and just to have it pushed back, it was a little rough for us," Lopez said. "Like I said, there are some more important things, but we were definitely anxious these last few days."
The Manhattan hotel where the Raptors planned to stay lost power, so the team stayed in Brooklyn, instead.
The Nets lined up buses to run from Manhattan on Saturday, and fans got a boost when some subways began running from Manhattan. The storm's effects were evident at the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center transit complex — water damage on the floor, escalators shut off — but there was a huge crowd in the plaza outside the arena before the game and the building appeared mostly full long before a lively pregame ceremony.
Commissioner David Stern turned boos into cheers when he announced it was honor "welcome Brooklyn, USA to the NBA." Former Brooklyn Dodgers Ralph Branca, and Joe Pignatano, along with Gil Hodges, Jr., whose father was a star with the beloved Dodgers before they moved to Los Angeles, exchanged jerseys with some Nets players.
The Nets are completely rebranded after 35 years in New Jersey, with a new logo, black-and-white color scheme, and a new mascot called "BrooklyKnight" who was introduced.
Most importantly, they think they'll have a fan base. Never truly loved during while bouncing around multiple homes in Jersey after leaving Long Island, Branca said the Nets will find the same loyal fans in Brooklyn that backed the Dodgers.
The Nets believe they've built a playoff team after re-signing Williams, trading for Johnson and re-signing starters Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov said the Nets have the "best arena in the NBA and a competitive team."
He said when he bought the team his goal was to win a title in five years. The billionaire bachelor joked that since he's two years into his ownership and said he'd get married if he didn't meet his deadline that he was "maybe the most devoted guy for the championship."
Williams made a jumper for the first Barclays basket, but Toronto shot 62.5 percent in the first quarter and led 35-27. The Nets outscored the Raptors 33-17 in the second, forcing eight turnovers, and led 60-52 at the break.
"That was a big quarter, a stretch of mistakes there. One stretch that got us in the second quarter," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "Again, we fought our way back into position even with that bad quarter. We put ourselves in position to win. We got to close it out."
Williams put it away with four free throws in the final 20 seconds.
Reggie Evans had 13 rebounds in just 16 minutes off the Nets' bench.
Wallace hurt his left ankle trying to block a shot in the final minutes. X-rays were negative and the Nets said he was day to day. ... Nets reserve Josh Childress sat out with a sore left ankle and Avery Johnson said he doubted Childress would play Monday against Minnesota, either. ... The Nets evened the all-times series at 33-33.