Nets move over .500 with win over Grizzlies
NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets are a winning team.
That possibility would have been scoffed at two months ago when the Nets lost seven of their last nine games in December or when they went 5-12 in November.
But Brooklyn moved ahead of .500 for the first time this season with a 103-94 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
“It’s not always how you start, but it’s going to be how you finish,” guard Paul Pierce said. “I think with the way we’ve been playing as of late, since the All-Star break, turn of the New Year, this is the Nets team that I envisioned from the beginning of the season.”
The Nets (30-29) won their sixth straight game at Barclays Center and fourth consecutive overall and did it without forward Kevin Garnett, who missed his third straight game with a back injury.
Brooklyn is now 5-5 with the future Hall of Famer out of the lineup, winning their last four.
“Even though he’s been out, he’s still a major part of this team. It’s just guys have to step up,” forward Andray Blatche said. “Mason Plumlee has been playing extremely well on defense with the starters and that’s what has been helping.”
They also did it defensively, becoming the first team in the NBA this season to record 12 or more steals in four straight games. Brooklyn scored 29 points off the Grizzlies 21 turnovers.
“Our turnovers really cost us tonight,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “Brooklyn scored on a ton of them. We threw the ball away like we haven’t for a couple of weeks. That’s frustrating.”
Offensively, Marcus Thornton provided the spark with the guard, who was acquired from Sacramento in a trade Feb. 19, scoring 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
“I’m just going out there and playing,” said Thornton, who scored 20 or more points for the second time in three games. “When you have unselfish players who are looking for you every time down the court, it makes it much easier to go out there and play.”
Guard Joe Johnson scored a game-high 21 points, guard Deron Williams had 16 points, Pierce had 14 points and eight rebounds and Blatche scored 12 points for the Nets, who improve to 12-2 at home since Jan. 1.
The Nets (30-29) dominated from the opening tip, racing out to a 21-2 lead on a Williams layup. Their lead ballooned to 21 on a three-point play by Blatche with 3:30 left in the first quarter.
Center Marc Gasol (18 points) injected life into the Grizzles (34-26) with eight points and five rebounds in the first quarter and, after making just one of its first 11 shots, Memphis ended the first quarter shooting 30.8 percent (8 of 26) from the field, trailing 30-19.
“They made a lot of shots, some which were contested and some were not,” Gasol said. “I think it was more lack of execution on our side, more of a lack of assertiveness when we did not execute or move the ball or get to the paint like we normally do.”
On the strength of a 14-0 run, the Grizzlies pulled within 30-26 on putback by guard Tony Allen (15 points), but Thornton caught fire in the second quarter, scoring 15 straight points to extend Brooklyn’s lead to 50-39 with 2:14 left in the first half.
“He’s been huge, man,” guard Joe Johnson said of Thornton. “He’s a guy who can score buckets in a short amount of time. We need that spark plug off the bench and he’s been that since day one that he’s joined this team.”
Thornton hasn’t been alone. It seems that everyone who steps on the court has contributed, making the Nets one of the NBA’s best teams in the calendar year 2014.
“It’s been a long journey,” Williams said. “It definitely feels good getting here, and hopefully we can continue this play.”
NOTES: The Nets signed C Jason Collins to a second 10-day contract Wednesday. The 13-year pro is averaging 0.6 points, 1.0 rebound and 0.2 assists per game. ... Out for the Grizzlies was F Zach Randolph (flu-like symptoms). ... Memphis coach Dave Joerger said he was finally able to see G Beno Udrih in practice for the first time Tuesday in Brooklyn. “We just want to get him comfortable first,” Joerger said of Udrich, who was claimed by Memphis on Feb. 27, three days after being waived by the Knicks. “I’m happy to have him, happy to have his experience.” ... The Nets head to Boston on Thursday, while the Grizzlies play in Chicago in the final game of a three-game road trip.