The Nets improved to 3-0 in regular-season NBA games in the British capital with a 127-110 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday.
Joe Johnson, who spent seven years with the Hawks, led the way for the Nets at the O2 Arena. The Brooklyn guard scored 26 of his game-high 29 points in the first half, and nailed two buzzer-beating 3-pointers.
“We just exploited mismatches. I was just feeding off these guys,” Johnson said. “We had a lot of ball movement and took a lot of open shots.”
Three years ago, the then-New Jersey Nets played two regular-season games at the same O2 Arena, located on the banks of the River Thames and the venue used for the gold medal basketball game at the 2012 London Olympics. They beat the Raptors in both those games.
Last year, the New York Knicks beat the Detroit Pistons in the third regular-season game to be played in London.
Although the crowd seemed to save its loudest cheers for off-the-court action, both teams finished the game with five players scoring in double digits.
Andray Blatche added 20 points and 14 rebounds for the Nets, while Paul Pierce contributed 18 points, Alan Anderson 15 and Kevin Garnett 12.
“The ball was moving, guys were looking for each other and finding each other,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “Joe has been off the charts. Not just last few games but the whole season.”
Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack, both coming off the bench, led the Hawks with 17 points each. Jeff Teague scored 16 points, Paul Millsap had 13 and Pero Antic 11.
The Hawks stayed close for the first quarter, but the Nets started to pull away in the second. Anderson started an 8-0 run early in the quarter, with Pierce contributing two layups and Blatche finishing it off with a putback to make it 39-30.
“Their size and their length was a problem in a lot of different ways, and rebounding was just one of them,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Johnson ended the half with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it 65-53. And the Nets pulled further away in the third quarter, with Johnson again finishing it off with a buzzer-beating 3 to make it 99-74.
Although his scoring numbers dropped in the second half, Johnson has now scored 20 or more points in four straight games.
“We’ve got the best seat in the house,” Garnett said of watching Johnson put up big numbers. “When you’re so used to being in that situation yourself, it’s great to have a guy who can just take over the game.”
On the other end, Hawks guard Kyle Korver extended his NBA record to 108 straight games with a 3-pointer.
Korver was off-target in the first three quarters and finally sank his eighth attempt from beyond the arc with just over 8 minutes to go, making it 111-81. That was his only basket of the night.
“To give him an opportunity to continue something that’s very unique and special is important,” Budenholzer said. “At some point the streak will come to an end, but it wasn’t (Thursday).”
Both teams play again Monday. The Nets visit the Knicks while the Hawks host Miami.
Besides the game, the fans oftentimes cheered wildly for the entertainment between quarters and timeouts, and for one famous guest.
During a break in the third quarter, the face of Beatles great Paul McCartney flashed up on the big screen. As the crowd roared, several kids nearby jumped into the frame to make themselves seen. McCartney, sitting behind the Nets’ bench, then squirmed his way through the youngsters to get his face back up on the giant monitor as “Hey Jude” blared inside the venue.
n NOTES: Nets G Deron Williams was out with a sprained left ankle. ... The Nets-Hawks encounter is the 12th NBA game in London, dating back to 1993, but only the fourth regular-season game. ... The Nets improved to 8-3 this season when Johnson scores 20 or more points. ... As usual, several Premier League soccer stars made their way to the O2 Arena to watch the game, including Germany striker Lukas Podolski and England midfielder Jack Wilshere. Both play for London club Arsenal.