Following the abrupt dismissal of former head coach Avery Johnson, it seems as though the Brooklyn Nets have found their footing once again.
Interim coach P.J. Carlesimo gave a pre-game motivational message that helped the Nets earn an elusive win in Oklahoma City, giving the team the kind of jolt it needs to get out of a month long funk.
Joe Johnson scored a season-high 33 points, Deron Williams added 19 points and 13 assists, and the Nets snapped Oklahoma City's 12-game home winning streak by beating the Thunder 110-93 Wednesday night in a game featuring the first ejection of Kevin Durant's career.
Johnson said Carlesimo "jumped on us" after a 31-point thumping at San Antonio two nights earlier, stressing the importance of ball movement on offense and helping each other out on defense.
"To be honest, it helped," Johnson said. "It translated into the game because we were in a spot defensively that we hadn't been in in a while. We was talking, communicating, the ball was moving great, guys were getting wide-open shots and it just kind of played into our hands."
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The Nets built a 23-point lead late in the second quarter, then allowed Oklahoma City to tie it at 85 before ripping off a 23-8 run to seize control right back. Durant was ejected near the end of the surge, arguing with Danny Crawford after the referee had already issued a technical foul against Kendrick Perkins.
"I just thought it was a bad call. You get frustrated throughout a game, you show emotion. That's how you can tell you love it," said Durant, who scored 27 points.
The three-time scoring champion had never before been ejected in his six NBA seasons but got tossed after Brooklyn rallied largely from the foul line. The Nets made 11 free throws in a span of just over 5 minutes, pulling away after Oklahoma City had finally fought all the way back.
But Durant said it wasn't a disparity in foul calls or any cumulative complaint about the officiating that sent him to the showers early.
"I said, 'It's a bad call,'" he said. "They've got a quick trigger now."
"I think I'm allowed to be frustrated, especially in this league. With the ups and downs, the players are allowed to be frustrated," Durant added. "It is what it is, move on from it."
Brook Lopez added 25 points as Brooklyn ended a seven-game losing streak in the series and got Carlesimo a victory against the team that fired him back in 2008. He'd only had one win in Oklahoma City during his abbreviated tenure in charge of the Thunder, getting fired after a 1-12 start after the team's summer relocation from Seattle.
He started his interim stint with the Nets by notching wins against Charlotte and Cleveland before the 104-73 blowout loss at San Antonio.
"For whatever reason, we didn't have quite the same kind of energy in San Antonio, but we learned from it. ... Tonight was tremendous energy," Carlesimo said.
Johnson gave him credit for the turnaround, but he deflected it to Gerald Wallace, who was back in the starting lineup after sitting out Monday's game with a bruised left knee.
"Gerald Wallace is a monster. You want to talk about something that wasn't in San Antonio? Gerald Wallace, because Gerald Wallace is kind of the heart, the way he plays," Carlesimo said. "So, it's not easy for us to play without Gerald Wallace."
The Nets have been seeking a spark after following a strong November, when Avery Johnson was named the Eastern Conference's coach of the month, by going 3-10 and costing him his job.
"It's huge any time you play a good team, but particularly when you play them on the road," Carlesimo said. "Honestly, this is a big-time win. It's a great, great win."
Carlesimo spoke as though he held no grudge against the Thunder, who replaced him — then on an interim basis — with Scott Brooks, who has overseen the team's rise into a championship contender.
Back when Carlesimo was in charge, Kevin Durant was starting his second year in the NBA and Russell Westbrook was a rookie who had yet to break into the starting lineup. Now, they're both established All-Stars.
"It's a team I feel closer to than a lot of other teams. Hopefully, we helped KD and Nick (Collison) a little bit and Russell a tiny bit that first year, but I think it's safe to say they've gone on and overcome whatever coaching they got from me," Carlesimo said, drawing laughs.
At the start, it looked like Carlesimo's new squad would run away with it against the Thunder, who started the day with the league's best record.
Johnson and Lopez combined to go 9 for 9 from the field to propel the Nets to a quick 27-11 lead, and the lead grew to as much as 23 twice — including at 55-32 after Johnson drilled a 3-pointer off a touch pass from Wallace.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.