sport

NBA 'will return to London'

The Brooklyn Nets beat the Atlanta Hawks 127-110 in Thursday's NBA basketball game in London - and a return is very much on the cards.

London can look forward to seeing plenty more of the NBA after a sold-out O2 Arena watched the Brooklyn Nets cruise to a 127-110 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

Joe Johnson scored 29 points and Andray Blatche brought 20 off the bench as five Nets players scored in double figures - veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett kicking in 18 and 12 respectively, keeping Brooklyn in front virtually all the way.

This was the fourth regular-season game played in London in as many years, a project spearheaded by NBA commissioner David Stern who saw the Olympics as a chance to kick-start a sport which has struggled to gain a foothold in this country.

Before Thursday's game, the 71-year-old gave what is likely to be his final press conference before stepping down at the end of the month, but his chosen successor Adam Silver promised the league would keep on coming to London.

"We do have plans in place to continue playing regular-season games in London," the deputy commissioner said. "It's been a fantastic experience for our teams and our players and we'll continue building for our business both in London and Europe.

"Right now we're going to continue on the same course - an annual regular-season game, in London."

The NBA brought the usual array of glitz and glamour to the arena, which is sometimes so much it is hard to remember a game is going on in the midst of it.

Sir Paul McCartney topped a long list of celebrities in the crowd, while the usual parade of star footballers on the big screen culminated in Robert Pires being caught on the kiss-cam.

On the court, the Nets maintained their recent hot form by overpowering a Hawks team whose push for a post-season place continues to be hurt by a dismal record on the road.

Johnson had 26 of his points in the first half to power the Nets into a 65-53 lead by half-time and his team-mates took over in the second half, suggesting an expensively assembled roster might finally be coming together under first-year coach Jason Kidd.

The Hawks might not have been able to keep up but they kept the crowd entertained all the same, with Mike Scott connecting on Dennis Schroeder's pass for a spectacular alley-oop in the first half.

Veteran Hawks guard Kyle Korver arrived in London having made a three-pointer in each of his last 108 games - easily surpassing the previous NBA record of 89 - and although he missed his first seven attempts he finally sank one with eight minutes remaining to bring the crowd to its feet once more.

That sell-out crowd created a fantastic atmosphere throughout, exactly the sort of thing which keeps the NBA coming back.

While plenty of other cities around Europe would love to be selected, London, it seems, is the NBA's first choice - with Stern describing the city as the "centre-point".

"I think the post-Olympic glow is terrific," Stern said. "And it's been good for basketball."

An economy Stern described as "booming" relative to the rest of Europe helped the NBA sell out this game inside four hours, and that, combined with London's infrastructure, will keep the capital ahead of cities in Europe's more traditional basketball markets such as Spain or Italy.

"The O2 is a spectacular building," Stern added. "The last time we played in Italy I think we played in the Forum. The Forum is as old as me and it looks it.

"These are all considerations, and our sponsors, licensees and international broadcasters, they enjoy coming to the centre-point here in London."