Lopez makes first game-winner since Stanford days

NEWARK, N.J. -- Brook Lopez did something on Monday night that he hadn’t done since March 22, 2008.

Make a game-winning shot.

Lopez’s turnaround hook shot with 1.4 seconds left lifted the New Jersey Nets past the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, 103-101, at the Prudential Center.

“I was just talking with [vice president of public relations] Gary [Sussman] about that,” said Lopez, reflecting on his last game-winner. “I think it was Stanford-Marquette.”

Lopez was just a sophomore then, playing for the right to play in the Sweet 16.

The Cardinal trailed the Golden Eagles by one heading into the final Stanford possession. Then 19-years-old, Lopez caught the ball on the right block, turned and dropped in a baseline leaner with 1.3 seconds remaining, vaulting Stanford past Marquette, 82-81.

One college game, and 209 games into his three-year NBA career later, he did it again.

“It was tremendous,” Nets head coach Avery Johnson said of Lopez’s shot. “I thought he was a force all night long. He got deep post catches. We got some easy buckets and he really made them focus on the inside, which opened up some shots for our shooters in the second half.”

Eight of Lopez’s game-high 28 points came in the fourth quarter, a final stanza in which the Nets shot 59.1 percent from the floor. But it was the 22-year-old center’s final two points of the evening that mattered the most -- especially with his team coming off a heartbreaking, 87-86 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

That time, the Nets failed to execute their final play. This time, they executed it to perfection.

Point guard Devin Harris inbounded the ball to shooting guard Sasha Vujacic, who quickly made a high-post entry pass to Lopez. He took one dribble, then made contact with his defender, Ryan Hollins, as he turned over his right shoulder and hoisted the six-foot hook inside the paint.

“I was praying, holding my breath [that it would go in],” Johnson said. “I really wanted this one for our guys, especially to execute something that they had worked on all morning and we come to the game tonight and we needed it. Sasha made an on-time, on-target pass to Brook and he finished the shot.”

“We ran that play exactly the way we wanted,” said Lopez, noting, like Johnson did, that the Nets worked on that play a lot during Monday morning’s shootaround before the game. “No, it was a different one [than Dallas]. We actually ran that play a lot tonight the play from the Dallas game. But we just wanted to execute at the end of the half. We didn’t do that in the first half and the coach gave us a piece of his mind.”

So did Lopez. Normally quiet and reserved, Lopez laced into his teammates at halftime after they went into the locker room trailing 54-48 to a Cavaliers team that entered the game on a 16-game losing streak.

“His message was, we gotta execute,” Harris said. “We had a few plays at the end of the first half where we didn’t execute, guys not remembering where they were supposed to be and we needed to come out with more focus and I think we did that.”

Lopez, who was 10-for-20 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds in 37 minutes, is averaging 22.0 points in his last seven games.

“He’s been on a tear and we just want to keep him focused,” Johnson said. “You don’t see two or three guys on Brook because we have Anthony [Morrow] back and Sasha Vujacic is out there that’s another shooter. Now Brook has more room to operate, and he’s also trusting his teammates that if he gets double-teamed he can find those guys.”

With Lopez doing damage in the paint and the Nets (13-32) spacing the floor and moving the ball around the perimeter, they ended up shooting 7-for-13 from 3-point range.

After the game, Johnson called Morrow -- who finished with 16 points off the bench -- “Mariano Rivera” for his ability to “come out of the bullpen and help us close this game.”

But with the game hanging in the balance, they went to their horse, otherwise known as Brook Lopez, or, in New York Yankees’ terms, CC Sabathia.

And just like Sabathia has ever since the Yankees gave him a 7-year, $161 million contract, Lopez delivered.

The Nets are now 3-1 during their homestand. A big reason why?

Their big man. Their horse. Their ace.