So, coach Avery Johnson sent All-Star point guard Deron Williams back on the floor with about 3 1/2 minutes left to help the Nets close out a 98-88 victory over the Washington Wizards on Monday night in the first basketball game at the Barclays Center.
Most starters, certainly players of Williams’ caliber, would be on the bench for good by that stage of a preseason game. But Johnson wanted the victory, even catching Williams off guard when he told the Olympian to go back in.
“I just thought it was important,” Johnson said. “I thought it was nice that our fans would go home with a good feeling about our team.”
Brook Lopez had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Nets, who left New Jersey after last season for a new $1 billion home in Brooklyn. They were greeted by 14,219 fans on the night they became Brooklyn’s first major pro sports team since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957.
With the Nets leading by six, Williams fed Gerald Wallace for a basket about 30 seconds after returning, and exchanged words and technical fouls with Wizards reserve A.J. Priceafter Price fouled him with 56.5 seconds remaining. The two jawed a couple of times over the final minutes.
Williams said Price, from Long Island, kept saying that he was home.
“It’s my home now,” Williams said. “I told him that.”
And the Nets couldn’t wait to get here.
Players said they expected fans would help them create a tough environment for visiting teams, but even opponents will probably enjoy playing here more than in the often empty Prudential Center, where the Nets spent the past two seasons.
“I think this city of Brooklyn is a proud city. They back anything that comes from their city. They rep it. They love it. It’s their heart. They show support to it,” Washington’s Trevor Ariza said.
“It’s fun to play in. The floor is dope. The arena is dope. It’s a cool place to play.”
Andray Blatche scored 16 points, Joe Johnson had 14 and Williams finished with 11 points and nine assists for the Nets, 2-0 in the preseason.
Martell Webster scored 18 points and rookie Bradley Beal added 13 for the Wizards.
The Nets wore their road black uniforms with the word “Brooklyn” across the chest, designed and unveiled by rap mogul and team part-owner Jay-Z in one of his concerts here last month.
His influence, the new home and a flurry of offseason moves have brought the Nets nearly unprecedented attention for a team that was often ignored in its multiple New Jersey homes, no matter how good or bad the Knicks were during that time.
Shortly after the public address announcer greeted fans with a “Hello Brooklyn!” before introducing the Nets’ lineup, Emeka Okafor made the first basket at the Barclays Center. The Wizards led by one after one, and the Nets took a 50-48 lead into halftime.
The Nets assembled a team they think will be a solid competitor during their first season here, re-signing Williams, Lopez, Wallace and Kris Humphries while acquiring players such as Johnson, C.J. Watson, Blatche and Reggie Evans, a quick rebuild for a team that lost 70 games just three seasons ago.
The move to Brooklyn took much longer. Owner and developer Bruce Ratner had to fight off dozens of lawsuits before the project could go forward, eventually selling a majority stake in the team to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov for enough funding to move ahead.
Minor work is still being completed, but the Nets will deal with any inconveniences after two years in Newark while waiting for the Barclays Center to be ready.
“It feels great on all levels to finally be here,” Avery Johnson said before the game. “You know, I left the building for two hours today, two or three hours, and just was kind of anxious to get back.”
Seating 17,732 for basketball, the arena sits above the exit to an expanded subway station that is directly accessible by nine lines. Team officials believe the ease of traveling to the arena will help provide them with a home-court advantage that they never found in New Jersey. Fans were into the game, with a chant of “Brooklyn!” breaking out late in the fourth quarter.
“I think this atmosphere is going to be great come Nov. 1 and hopefully for the rest of the year,” Williams said, “especially if we’re taking care of business at home.”