LONDON — The New Jersey Nets are still far away from their Russian owner’s goal of making the team a global brand and NBA champion. But for now, at least, they’re the league’s most successful team in games played in Europe.
Brook Lopez scored 25 points and New Jersey ended a six-game losing streak with a 116-103 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday in the first regular-season game on the continent.
Kris Humphries had 18 points and 17 rebounds and Deron Williams earned his first win since being acquired from the Utah Jazz last week, adding 16 points and 11 assists.
“Happy with my first win as a Net,” said the All-Star guard, who played despite injuries to both hands — a strained right wrist and bruised left hand. “We had a lot of energy today. We were all a little worried about how the trip would affect us, fatigue would set in. But we had a lot of energy. We had definitely some bright spots, some guys played great for us tonight.”
Perhaps the brightest spot came from the bench.
Toronto led 81-78 at the end of the third quarter, but Jordan Farmar hit two straight 3-pointers to start the fourth, and Sundiata Gaines added seven points in a decisive 20-6 run sparked by the Nets reserves.
“They were huge for us in the second half,” Lopez said. “They gave us a huge lift, pretty much blew open the game for us.”
Lopez and Williams did the rest, combining for 11 points after coming back on to make sure Toronto never pulled closer than five.
DeMar DeRozan led Toronto (17-45) with 30 points and Andrea Bargnani added 23.
Williams had his fourth straight double-double since joining the team, and he and Lopez showed signs they can turn into the type of formidable duo the franchise hoped for.
“Our chemistry grows every game by the boatload,” Lopez said.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said before the game that he plans to sit down with Williams in London and get the guard to commit to a long-term future with the club, saying the two share a common goal of being “No. 1.” The two have only had a brief opportunity to chat so far, after a loss in San Antonio last week.
“Mr. Prokhorov met me in San Antonio and we talked for a couple of minutes, but in that short couple of minutes he definitely got me excited also about the move and the future of this franchise,” Williams said. “I’m sure we’ll have more chances to sit down and talk and get to know each other.”
The Nets and Raptors will face each other again at the O2 on Saturday, as the NBA decided to bring regular-season games to Europe for the first time as part of its push to increase its fan base on the continent. The O2 has hosted preseason games for the last four years.
The attendance for Friday’s game was an announced sellout of 18,689, but there were some empty seats.
“I loved the crowd,” said Bargnani, who was the highest-scoring European player on the night. “I really felt the excitement. I was nervous in the first half. I think it’s going to be better tomorrow.”
The unusual venue meant the public announcer had to do some extra work, explaining some of the basic rules every now and then to the British crowd — like pointing out that a player fouled while shooting gets two free throws.
And with crowd support split between the two teams — despite the Nets being listed as the home team — players had the rare experience of being booed by rival fans before every free throw, and then cheered by their own supporters if the shot was good.
While the game featured two teams with losing records and lacked a nailbiting finish, there were plenty of highlights. Lopez provided two of the biggest in the first half, first driving through the lane for a one-handed dunk to cut Toronto’s lead to 39-34, and then jumping over Leandro Barbosa for an alley-oop slam on an assist from Williams to give his team a 42-41 lead.
“These games are great for global basketball, great for the NBA,” said Williams, who scored all but two of his 16 points in the second half. “And I thought the crowd tonight was great, they cheered for both teams pretty equally. When both teams did something good out there, they liked it. And I hope this is just the start of many, many more games.”