LONDON — You know you’re a hit when the coach whose team lost back-to-back regular season games walks out of the building touting how much his team learned from their experience.
What the Nets and Raptors did Saturday night, though, goes above and beyond what anyone expected, even from a celebrated guest like the NBA. Two teams with a combined 35 wins before the night started, played the craziest (in a good way) and best regular season game of this NBA season.
That they did on the back-end of a historic, back-t-back set — the first regular season games played on European soil — only made it that much sweeter for the sellout crowd that piled into the splendid 02 Arena on this magnificent cities’ eastern edge. And yes, that would be the same crowd that rose to its feet in unison and gave both teams a standing ovation before the final 12.6 seconds of the third and final overtime was played.
“Hats off to the NBA … because I think it’s a huge success,” exhausted Nets coach Avery Johnson said of the European experiment. “This is one of the best wins I’ve been a part of … If you look at this crowd, the last two nights, I didn’t see an empty seat in the building. They were into the game and we provided them to two thrilling nights of basketball.”
And fans from all over the continent found their way here for the weekend. I know this because I had the pleasure of shaking hands and taking pictures with many of them before, during and after both games. They came from all over. Sweden, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Italy and Russia, just to name a few, were all represented. There were men, women and children. Fans of the teams specifically but mostly fans of the NBA game. They wanted to be a part of the experience.
Still, none of us expected to see the triple overtime thriller we all witnessed on this night.
“Hopefully, every time we come through London we’re the home team here,” said Nets power forward Kris Humphries, who showed off with 38 points and 35 rebounds in two games, much to the delight of the crowd. “It feels good. It’s been great here, a great experience. Thanks to all the people that made this happen.”