OKLAHOMA CITY -- Pounding on a locked door in the hallway adjacent to the visitors' locker room, looking for some solitude to soak in the best win of his young coaching life, Jason Kidd felt a tap on the shoulder from an unlikely well-wisher.
"Good job, Coach," Russell Westbrook stopped to tell Kidd on his way out of Chesapeake Energy Arena. "Good job."
The past and present Team USAers then shared a knowing laugh or two about this weird, wild night. With good reason, too, since Brooklyn presumably doesn't rally from 16 points down in the final minute of the third quarter -- or 10 points down with 6:33 to go in a building where OKC was 14-2 -- if Westbrook wasn't watching the whole thing Thursday in street clothes.
Not that those visitors from Brooklyn felt an ounce of remorse. Not after the 31 miserable games they dragged through before this one. The Nets and their rookie coach have been waiting all season for a night like this: Deron Williams playing at full tilt, veteran after veteran scrapping hard to back him up and the sum of those forces adding up to 48 minutes of fight.
"It's a new year."
Kidd's wisest old heads imported from Boston -- Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett -- would soon follow with loud warnings that it's only a 1-0 start in 2014. Whether the NBA's $190 Million Roster can actually use this resurrection as a platform and turn it into something sustainable, even after losing Brook Lopez for the season, was described by KG himself as "the biggest question mark."
After revealing that the team decided, as a group, to try to use New Year's Day as a trigger to "turn things around," Pierce added: "We still got a ways to go."
From here, though, Brooklyn finally has a blueprint.
Amid all the scrutiny, all the external negativity, Kidd tuned it all out and made some bold (and successful) changes to the Nets' approach in the wake of the 21-point pounding they absorbed at San Antonio in their last act of 2013. He went super small with his starting lineup, moving Pierce to power forward next to his makeshift center Garnett ... while also asking Shaun Livingston to not only take some ballhandling pressure off Williams as D-Will's backcourt mate, but also guard Durant at the other end.
The idea was that Brooklyn would start the game, and finish it, with two playmakers and its best offensive fivesome: Williams, Livingston, Johnson, Pierce and Garnett. Add in the 14 second-half turnovers they uncharacteristically coaxed out of the Thunder and rare foul trouble for Durant and Reggie Jackson, and Brooklyn had just enough to give Johnson his chance to go behind his back with the dribble in the middle of the floor, launch a fallaway rainbow over Serge Ibaka's long reach and steal it at the end with Johnson's fourth career buzzer-beater in a season and a half as a Net.
"We didn't give in to the team making the run, even though in the third quarter they really pushed the lead," Pierce said. "The crowd really got behind them, but the thing is we really stayed together."
After being spotted jumping around like a sixth defender on the sideline down the stretch, Kidd said: "Our defense was there for 48 minutes. Everybody played, everybody pitched in. And that's what it takes to win."
That and this D-Will.
The togetherness? The desire? Brooklyn legitimately recorded season-highs in both categories, with some smart double-team swarming of Durant (24 points) in the fourth quarter, to capitalize on the Thunder's vulnerability without Westbrook.
The reality, though, remains that the bulk of the Nets' hopes for digging out of this 11-21 hole to at least get to the playoffs rest on the shoulders (and chronically sore ankles) of Williams. D-Will barely had a training camp because of those blasted ankles, but he'll have to more regularly be the dominant force seen here if the Nets -- especially now without Lopez -- are going to salvage anything from the most expensive season ever.
And Williams knows it.
Fresh off uncorking this season-best 29 points in his new role playing off Livingston, including six 3s, Williams admitted: “I have to be more aggressive like this every day. And hopefully I can do that.
"That’s a good way to start the new year. It’s a clean slate, I guess, and hopefully we can build on it."
Said Garnett: "This is a great morale win for us. We needed it. You have no idea [how much]."