NEW YORK – The Brooklyn Nets don’t just have five former All-Stars in their starting lineup. They go much deeper than that, as evidenced by the minutes played in Friday’s 101-100 win over the Miami Heat.
Paul Pierce‘s 31 minutes were the most by a Nets player. Nobody else played more than 27 and the Brooklyn starting lineup played just eight minutes together all night. Kevin Garnett‘s 26 minutes were the fewest he has played against the Heat since they signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
The Heat did not play well. Three games into the season, they’ve yet to find a rhythm. And it’s clear that James — one of three Heat players to log more minutes than any Net — doesn’t quite have his full explosiveness at this stage.
But the Nets aren’t exactly clicking on all cylinders, either. Deron Williams is just getting back into basketball shape after sitting out most of the preseason. Andrei Kirilenko made his Nets debut on Friday, but had his minutes limited. And Brook Lopez spent most of the night on the bench with foul trouble.
No worries, because this team basically goes 10-deep with guys who can put the ball in the basket. Ten of the 11 Nets who played on Friday scored at least six points and none of them took more than 11 shots.
“I think we have probably more depth than anybody in the league,” Pierce said. “The bench is going to be huge for us all season long.”
One of the biggest plays of a game was a Williams/Garnett pick-and-roll that forced James to sag off of Joe Johnson, who drained a 3 from the strong-side wing. With those three guys on one side of the floor, it was a difficult play to defend. And then you realize that Pierce was standing in the opposite corner, while Lopez, Kirilenko and Jason Terry were all sitting on the bench.
And that was just a one-pass possession. Most of the night, there were multiple passes until the ball found the open man. Ball reversal is critical against Miami, and Brooklyn made sure they made the defense move. This team isn’t just deep in terms of minutes played, but also in regard to how many different guys can beat you every time down the floor. And it doesn’t matter to them who takes the shot.
“Our strength is sharing the ball,” Garnett said afterward. “You can’t play defense on everybody. We’ve got a lot of first-option guys who scored a bunch of points on different teams. We got a lot of talent on this squad. We know our strength is in numbers.”
The questions with this team begin with the health and durability of Garnett and Pierce. But while keeping their minutes down is a priority, it shouldn’t be a problem. And the Nets’ depth comes with versatility, and ability to play big or small.
“One of things we noticed right away was the big-ticket moves,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “But then they continued to fill in their roster.”
This game was just one of 1,230 and these two teams will probably look much different the next time they meet (Jan. 10). But it was made clear on Friday just how much Brooklyn’s depth could be a problem for the champs, and for the rest of the league.
“I think it’s the beauty of it, right now,” Williams said. “Nobody has to play too many minutes, and nobody cares. You’re not seeing anybody pouting. Everybody’s up cheering. Everybody’s having fun. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”