The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 108-102 on Sunday night to improve to 10-17 on the road this season. Sunday night also marked the first time that the newly acquired Jason Collins suited up for an NBA game since coming out as the league's first openly gay player last April.
"I know that I can play in the NBA. I think I showed that tonight," Collins said, according to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding.
Brooklyn (26-28) has now won six of its last 10 games, while the Lakers (19-37) have dropped seven of their last 10.
The #Nets improve to an NBA-best 7-2 against Western Conference teams since Jan. 1 with tonight's victory in Los Angeles.— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) February 24, 2014
After scoring 33 points in the first quarter and opening up a 12-point lead, the Nets coasted to victory despite being outscored by 10 points in the second half.
The Nets shot 47 percent from the field and 48 percent from three in the win, while the Lakers shot 51 percent from the field but just 65 percent from the free-throw line.
Los Angeles also turned the ball over 17 times, which led to 20 Brooklyn points.
Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets, Point Guard
Matched up against the defensively inept Kendall Marshall, Williams sought to make an impact on the offensive end by terrorizing the second-year point guard.
Brooklyn opened the game by making seven of its first nine shots, and Williams made good on his early looks to the tune of seven points in less than six minutes.
Making shots helped, but BKN tripled LAL's assist total in that first half: 18-6. Williams had 6 himself.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 24, 2014
Moving fluidly and effectively in the open floor, Williams didn't look much like the player who entered Sunday averaging 14.8 points on 41.6 percent shooting over his last 10 games.
Deron Williams has looked a lot like the PG we used to debate alongside Chris Paul tonight.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 24, 2014
With the mid-range jumper working in Williams' favor as well, Brooklyn's lead dog worked his way to 30 points (9-of-16 shooting), seven assists and a career-high six steals on what proved to be an insanely productive evening.
Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets, Shooting Guard
While Pierce and Williams were going berserk on the offensive end, Joe Johnson was tasked with playing the role of sidekick. And surprisingly enough, Johnson seemed to embrace that role, racking up four assists during his first 15 minutes on the floor.
Eventually, Johnson found ways to get buckets, but his approach as the third wheel on a night when the Nets were clearly in a groove was admirable given how integral he's been to the team's offensive success this season.
In 35 minutes, Johnson scored 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting while dishing out a game-high eight assists and compiling two turnovers.
Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets, Small Forward
The Nets scored 33 points on 65 percent shooting during an outrageous first-quarter outburst. Fourteen of those points came courtesy of Pierce, who relished the opportunity to torch Wesley Johnson and the cavalcade of defenders that L.A. chose to throw at the 36-year-old.
After scoring a game-high 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the first half (when he was plus-19 in 15 minutes), Pierce cooled down considerably in the second half and finished with 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting to go with seven rebounds, four turnovers and four assists.
Nets were 2-21 from 3 last night. 7-14 tonight at the half.— devin kharpertian (@uuords) February 24, 2014
With his patented pull-up jumper looking as sharp as it has all season, Pierce made a living on the right side of the floor, particularly from the right wing, where he knocked down four threes from almost the exact same spot.
Andrei Kirilenko, Brooklyn Nets, Power Forward
Snagging a start in place of the injured Shaun Livingston (bruised tailbone), Andrei Kirilenko brought some much-needed defensive intensity to the Nets' starting five, racking up three steals (he averages 0.8 on the season) in the game's first three minutes.
Andrei Kirilenko has matched his season-high w/ 3 steals less than 3 minutes into tonight's game. #NETSonYES— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) February 24, 2014
And although 10 points may not seem like a hefty total, it's nearly double what the Russian is averaging this season.
Statistically speaking, Kirilenko found a way to make an impact across the board with 10 rebounds, three assists, a block and four steals in a performance that exemplified his jack-of-all-trades approach to the game.
Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets, Center
Starting in place of Kevin Garnett—who had the night off in order to rest—Mason Plumlee came out looking to make the most of his opportunities by bringing boatloads of energy to the Nets on both ends of the floor.
And if that was the rookie's goal, then mission accomplished. Not only did Plumlee score thanks to his activity around the basket, but his intensity on the glass was a driving force behind the Nets' early surge.
In total, Plumlee tallied six points and five rebounds (two offensive), although his defensive game could evidently use a bit of polish.
Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets, Sixth Man
Hampered by early foul trouble, Andray Blatche was forced to sit for extended minutes in the first half, and as a result, he finished with 10 points and three rebounds in 20 minutes.
On a night when the Nets were already short-handed in the frontcourt and attempting to phase Collins into the rotation, they could have undoubtedly used more from Blatche, especially on the defensive end.
Blatche has killed like the last 15 possessions he's been involved in.— The Brooklyn Game (@TheBKGame) February 24, 2014
Luckily for Blatche, it was Brooklyn's wings who decided to assume the scoring burden and take the onus off of a thin frontcourt.
Bench, Brooklyn Nets
Alan Anderson scored eight points, and Mirza Teletovic contributed nine on 3-of-5 shooting from three, but the story on Sunday night revolved around Collins, who made his first appearance on the NBA hardwood since April of last year.
And although Collins' appearance was historically significant for a number of reasons, he appeared to make things clear before the game that he's focused on earning a spot in the Nets' rotation.
"I need to be a solid basketball player. It’s about focusing on the task at hand and not thinking about history," Collins said, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
After entering in the second quarter, Collins saw 11 minutes and was tasked with defending Chris Kaman and L.A.'s other reserve bigs, which yielded the newest Net a steal on his first defensive possession.
Jason Collins enters at the 10:28 mark and is given a round of applause— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) February 24, 2014
Zero points, two rebounds, five personal fouls and a steal were in the cards for Collins on Sunday, but as ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz notes, the Nets didn't sign him to make a profound impact on the stat sheet:
Jason Kidd reportedly wanted a backup big man who talked on defense. Now talking on defense: Jason Collins.— Kevin Arnovitz (@kevinarnovitz) February 24, 2014
The silver lining: Brooklyn was plus-eight with Collins on the floor, the third-best mark of any Nets player.
Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers, Center
Over his last 10 games, Pau Gasol's averaging 20.3 points and 9.7 rebounds.
With those numbers in mind, it shouldn't come as a shock that the Lakers' starting center put forth a solid lunch-pail effort, scoring 22 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
There was hardly anything electric about the Spaniard's showing, but it's worth noting that all of his made field goals came in the paint while his two 18-footers were off the mark.
Considering the loss fell more on the Lakers' inability to defend the three and take care of the ball, Gasol doesn't deserve much flack.
Kendall Marshall, Los Angeles Lakers, Point Guard
Marshall's constantly looking to pass first and shoot second, but that was none more evident than on Sunday night when the second-year point guard shot just 1-of-4 from the field and doled out seven dimes.
However, Marshall continues to be plagued by turnover problems, and after committing three on Sunday, he has now coughed up the rock at least three times in six straight games.
It wouldn't be hard to draw the conclusion that Marshall's starting to run into some sort of proverbial wall, but with so many new faces flanking him on the wings, it looks like he's just trying to be a conscious teammate and set up his new running mates for clean looks.
Jodie Meeks, Los Angeles Lakers, Shooting Guard
While the Nets were bombing away from beyond the arc, Jodie Meeks attempted to keep pace, as the Lakers' premier perimeter marksman came out and nailed two of his first three shots from distance.
The first Lakers player into double figures, Meeks was once again the steadying force that guided L.A.'s offense, and it helped that he was one of the few Purple and Gold contributors who was able to consistently knock down threes.
However, outside of 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting (2-of-5 from three), Meeks wasn't particularly active in the distributive and defensive phases of the game, which dropped his grade to a mark that's just slightly above average.
Kent Bazemore, Los Angeles Lakers, Small Forward
After just one game in Hollywood, Mike D'Antoni decided it was time to give his starting lineup a shot in the arm by anointing Kent Bazemore the Lakers' latest starter at small forward.
Kent Bazemore became the 16th different Laker to start a game this season. Amazing.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) February 24, 2014
Turnovers and a lack of control emerged as issues for Bazemore early on against the Nets before he finally settled in and drilled a pair of threes, which appeared to calm the 24-year-old down on a night when he made his first career start.
With another solid showing that consisted of 17 points, zero rebounds, one assist and four turnovers in 29 minutes, Bazemore continues to look like a player tailor-made for D'Antoni's system that encourages quick looks at the rim. Bazemore also scored a team-high nine first-half points.
Wes Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers, Power Forward
Considering Bazemore was bumped into the starting five, Johnson was forced to slide up to power forward in order to make room for the newly acquired wing.
The positional change didn't impact Johnson's effectiveness, though, as the underwhelming perimeter stopper played the fewest minutes of any Los Angeles starter (18) and scored just three points.
Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers, Sixth Man
Returning to action for the first time since suffering a non-displaced fracture in his left knee on Feb. 5, Nick Young didn't waste any time looking to create shots for himself.
For the first time in 6 games, Nick Young's back on the floor, and he opened w/a made jumper (fading away, obviously).— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 24, 2014
Young opened up by shooting with little hesitation, which was good news for a Lakers offense that looked far too lethargic in the first quarter. True on his first two shots, Young went on to finish with 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting (3-of-5 from the charity stripe) in a limited 19 minutes, which was an encouraging sign for a Lakers team that was in desperate need of an offensive catalyst off the pine.
Bench, Los Angeles Lakers
Two nights after the Lakers' bench dismantled the Boston Celtics, D'Antoni's bench mob was presented with the unenviable task of making up for the starting five's woes.
Fortunately, the group consisting of Kaman, Jordan Hill, MarShon Brooks and Farmar (in addition to Young) was up for the challenge, with Hill looking like the sharpest of the crew with seven points and five rebounds during a first half when the pace was being pushed to extreme levels.
Hill and Kaman were the most active reserves for the second straight game, while Brooks fell back to earth a bit with just seven points on 3-of-7 shooting. Hill led all reserves with 11 points and eight rebounds, while Kaman tacked on eight points and four boards in 19 minutes.
Farmar added three points and four assists, while Ryan Kelly was eliminated from the rotation with Bazemore and Brooks active.
What's Up Next?
The Lakers are set for a showdown with the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, while the Nets will square off against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.