As far as challenges go, the Brooklyn Nets are as physical as they come. Even without Reggie Evans in the lineup on Saturday night, the Nets have enough firepower to make life miserable for an opponent.
There were times when center Brook Lopez made it seem as if Roy Hibbert hadn’t packed on those 15 pounds of muscle this summer, because throughout the first half, Lopez kept Hibbert out of the post and forced him to take jumpers. Then on the other end, Lopez would back Hibbert down – pretty rare to see these days.
“Yeah, I think I got really tired wrestling with that guy and playing defense,” Hibbert said. “I didn’t shoot a great percentage but I just tried to keep the pressure on him as much as possible.”
Orlando Johnson can also attest to the physicality of the Nets – and surprise! – the first semi confrontation of the season for the “smash mouth” Pacers nearly started because of their backup shooting guard.
After a good stretch in the third quarter, Johnson remained on the floor to start the fourth. Pretty soon, the Nets’ Kevin Garnett gave his team a spark with a put back slam. So the crowd was into it as the Nets trotted back on defense and really went wild when Garnett’s authoritative rebound from Johnson’s miss at the 10:44 mark. The problem was, Garnett got away with one against Johnson…
“He fouled him, yeah,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
Then, Garnett cleared out with elbows extended. Johnson, who was behind Garnett and in the line of fire of those unkind elbows, retaliated by aggressively bear hugging him.
“He fouled me,” Johnson recalled. “I thought they had some numbers, so I just wrapped him up so they wouldn’t get a fast break.”
When asked further about what set off such a quick and hard foul, Johnson said: ”He’s throwing elbows and stuff like that, but just letting him know that I’m not backing down to anybody like that.”
Though Vogel wants the Pacers to play defense without fouling, he had no problem with Johnson standing up for himself.
“You’ve got to be a physical basketball team,” Vogel said. “We don’t want to foul because of a lack of discipline but we don’t back down for anybody.”
At the moment of the foul, the Pacers only led 74-69 but the play worked as Johnson had hoped because the Nets could not break into transition. Over the next two minutes, the Pacers outscored the Nets 8-3. Johnson finished four points and four rebounds in 13:50 of play.
“When I come in, I’m going to bring passion and energy, that toughness that (Vogel’s) looking for,” Johnson said. “If somebody’s going to step up to me or one of my teammates, I’m going to be right there for them.”