<
>

Hollins' decision to sit Lopez pays off

NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets coach Lionel Hollins benched former All-Star center Brook Lopez for the entire fourth quarter of Sunday afternoon's game -- a smart tactical decision that paid off in the form of a 104-96 victory over the Orlando Magic and a 3-1 homestand.

Magic center Nikola Vucevic dominated Lopez for the first three quarters, so Hollins decided to go small, putting Kevin Garnett at center alongside Alan Anderson, Joe Johnson, Bojan Bogdanovic and Deron Williams.

Vucevic, who finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds on 13-for-19 from the field, was held scoreless in the final period and did not attempt a shot.

"[Brook] wasn't guarding him, and I wanted him to guard [Nikola]. Simple as that," Hollins said. "Get on him. You know he's shooting the ball and making shots, you've got to guard him."

With the game tied at 89-89 and 5:55 remaining, Hollins went to the Garnett-Anderson-Johnson-Bogdanovic-Williams combination, which limited the Magic to just 1-for-6 shooting the rest of the way.

"We had a lot more quickness, a lot more intensity," Hollins said. "We matched up better with them. They were playing small and we were getting hurt by them shooting 3s. They shot [8-for-15] from the 3-point line and then also Vuc, we never could get back to him, so I tried to play KG at 5 against Vuc. They didn't throw the ball into the post except for a couple times, and we did a good job of getting it out of there.

"And then, he didn't have anything in the pick-and-roll after that and I wound up with Joe playing Channing Frye and Alan Anderson playing Tobias Harris. And those guys have enough size in the same way as Bojan, who was playing well. Overall, all those guys are 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-8, and I thought we could match up and we could switch. Down the stretch we started switching a lot more on different things, which took them out of their rhythm which we weren't able to do in the first half."

Hollins likes his teams to usually play man-to-man defense exclusively, but decided to take a page out of the playbook that made the Nets so successful under Jason Kidd.

It's one of the reasons Hollins was one of just three coaches to receive a vote from the NBA's 30 general managers for best coach. He wanted to win the game -- and he was more than willing to sit a max player who was struggling in order to do so.

Hollins has gotten on Lopez because the coach wants to make the 26-year-old a better player. And Lopez, who is still recovering from a right midfoot sprain, hasn't had much practice time and is still trying to get into perfect playing shape, wasn't getting it done. So Hollins decided to go in another direction.

"I'm trying to do what he wants," Lopez said. "I felt I was out there, but I wasn't getting into [Nikola] enough, and that's the bottom line."

Asked if it was tough watching from the bench during the final period, Lopez replied, "We played well and we won. Our group out there did their jobs. It wasn't tough for me."

Earlier in the week, Lopez was dominated by a different Nikola, Pekovic, who scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Both his post and pick-and-roll defense have left a lot to be desired.

Garnett, however, has been known throughout his career as an excellent defensive player. Currently, the 20-year veteran uses his smarts to make up for his loss of quickness and athleticism.

"Absolutely," Garnett replied when asked if he was doing something different on Vucevic. "But if I tell you, then it would be worthless, right?"

As for going small, Garnett said, "It's not ideal, to be honest. Coach wants us to man up and guard our man. We do have to make adjustments during the game, and I thought the small lineup stopped a lot of dribble penetration at times."

Bogadnovic ended up with a career-high 22 points and Williams played yet another solid game, posting 18 points, seven assists and four rebounds in 41 minutes, but it was Hollins who proved to be Brooklyn's most valuable component Sunday afternoon.

"You don't want to distort everything every game," Hollins said. "You play the way you play and then if you need to, you have [the small lineup] in your back pocket to use. And tonight I just kept thinking how we could change this game, and I thought playing small and quicker was the answer."