If You Build It, They Will Come
The NBA’s London experiment pays off.
by Matt Ogborn / @mattogborn | photos Mansoor Ahmed
Mulling over another few days covering NBA action in Europe on Sunday, I sat down to watch “Field of Dreams.” How the hell I hadn’t seen it before in my 34 years on this earth, I will never know, nevertheless I gave it a go and well, what can I say, I am a sucker for a sport-themed weepy.
For Kevin Costner’s beautifully manicured Iowa baseball pitch read the pristine, inviting and cacophonous O2 Arena in London that housed the first ever regular-season games in Europe.
This particular film comparison was hammered home without me even knowing at the time, when I was crammed up a tad too cosy against a father and son on the last Tube following the nerve-jangling triple-overtime win for the Nets over the Raptors.
Much like the rest of the giddy carriage, they were shaking their heads at the amazing drama that capped another successful foray overseas for one of North America’s premier sports.
Friday night’s Nets win had been pretty engaging fare to a packed house lapping up the high-tempo entertainment in between the action, however Saturday trumped it and then some.
When you have dropped six straight in a season that’s been more notable for trades than victories, an undefeated back-to-back road trip feels like getting a ring on your finger.
New Jersey travelled to London trying to get their heads around the deadline trade for Deron Williams. See how the pieces could fit into Coach Johnson’s hastily reworked jigsaw.
Five days later, they’ve got a tight unit aiming to close out the season on a high with the prospect of some juicy Draft picks to pep up the rotation further in June.
And all on the back of that OT-heavy 137-136 victory that had London jumping to David Stern’s tune.
With DeMar DeRozan carrying over the quicksilver play he showed in the dumping ground of the final quarter on Friday, the Raptors outfought the Nets in the opening period.
The former USC standout left the spectacular jams to the others, his jumper working like a dream—until one minute to go that is when he soared through the air to keep the fans on their toes.
Brook Lopez, a study of steely-eyed concentration in the locker room beforehand, kept doing what he’s paid to do. He dominated the lane, to go six from eight with 12 minutes chalked off.
One man who used the trip to enhance his minutes, stats and reputation was Kris Humphries, the ex-Raptor starting the second with a thunderous dunk that flirted with a traveling violation.
His muscular play, allied with a stalking Lopez, shut out Andrea Bargnani early on. Meanwhile Leandro Barbosa could have been looking down from the Gods on Friday, such was his anonymous play, but the Brazilian began to take the load off DeRozan a little with some cute plays.
If you thought Deron was going to let the crowd enjoy their halftime snacks without some D-Will to ruminate on, you are sorely mistaken, as the new Net sank a couple of quick buckets. Teammate Sasha Vujacic also clicked, bucketing two slick threes, helping carry the Nets to 65-62 at the half.
Those smelling salts must have worked wonders in the Raptors locker room, because drowsy Italian Bargnani woke up in the third quarter to keep it tight heading into the fourth.
Sundiata Gaines exploded off the bench on Friday to help spark the Nets and he threatened to do it again, the whistle for the end of the third giving Toronto sweet relief.
Barbosa fired in a trey from the top of the D to eke out a Raptor lead soon after. It didn’t last long; former Laker Jordan Farmar opened up from distance to keep it on the level.
Amir Johnson tipped in to keep New Jersey honest, Vujacic’s solitary free throw leaving DeRozan time to spin superbly to the rim for a game-tying bucket with 19.5 seconds to go.
D-Will then had Jerryd Bayless one-on-one for the win, and the crowd in the palm of his hand, his jumper bouncing out though to usher in the extra period.
DeRozan and Humphries exchanged baskets, after the break, as the Wave swept round the rocking arena and the football celebrities slinked back from the VIP area.
Humphries received another charging call soon after, one of many Nets offensive fouls, only for Toronto to waste their next possession. Vujacic then sunk an ice-cold trey as Bargnani rimmed out for the win.
Thankfully for the vast army of Raptors fans present, the Italian made no mistake at the end of double overtime only for D-Will to sink a second-chance two to see the game enter a third OT.
It needed something out of the ordinary to put this game to bed, and former Trailblazer Travis Outlaw did just that, launching nothing but a net shot to seal it.
Bargnani still had time to rim out on a poorly conceived jumper, which was kind of cruel on the fast-improving center who came on like a bull in the second half to click with DeRozan.
Coach Johnson gave props to the Raptors in his post-game presser, the continental sojourn knitting together a jumbled roster which may lack flair across the board but bursts with hustle.
Down the corridor, Triano could at least praise his outfit for stepping it up second time around.
Unfortunately his team relies on DeRozan’s outstanding work ethic and capacity for genius to spark them way too often.
If I were a betting man, and plenty of bookies can call me out on that one, I would think Avery must be feeling that the scuttled Carmelo Anthony trade attempt could end up working out well if Deron stays around and keeps healthy for the much vaunted Brooklyn moving day alongside Lopez.
For the European fans who whooped, hollered, kiss cammed and bongoed the two nights away, the prospect of more regular-season games looks very rosy indeed.
History wasn’t quite made again with the NBA’s longest game, but Stern won’t care. His calculated risk, bolstered by Mikhail Prokhorov’s enigmatic presence in the stands, paid off in buckets of net, cash and acclaim.
Stay tuned for more worldwide hoops coverage from Matt on SLAMonline and his Ogmosis blog http://ogmosis.tumblr.com/