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Resilient Nets refuse to be buried in 2018

Brooklyn pulls out gritty win over Minnesota at Barclays Center

January 4, 2018 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Spencer Dinwiddie’s clutch jumper with just over 10 seconds left in regulation lifted Brooklyn to an impressive 98-97 win over Minnesota at Downtown’s Barclays Center on Wednesday night. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II
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Unbeaten in the new year and unwilling to go gently into NBA irrelevance for a third consecutive season, the resilient Nets dug deeper than the snow plows scrambling throughout our fair borough to pull out a big win Wednesday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

Spencer Dinwiddie hit a high, floating jumper from the left wing with just a little more than 10 seconds remaining in regulation to give Brooklyn a hope-inspiring 98-97 victory over previously red-hot Minnesota in front of 16,215 fans on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

Dinwiddie, who finished with a career high-tying 26 points and handed out a game-best nine assists, helped the Nets improve to 2-0 in 2018, and led them to their third victory in the past four games since a stretch of seven losses in eight games threatened to derail their campaign.

“He hit some big shots. I mean tough shots,” Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson said of Dinwiddie, who has shown a penchant for making game-deciding jumpers this season.

On Oct. 25, the 24-year-old Los Angeles native drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer with 43 seconds remaining to help the Nets stun LeBron James and the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers here at Barclays.

That was the Nets’ most impressive win of the season, until Wednesday night.

“I don’t know. I mean, the Cleveland one was probably a higher degree of difficulty,” Dinwiddie said when asked to compare his game-winners.

The clutch jumper only stood up because veteran Nets forward DeMarre Carroll got in Jimmy Butler’s face just enough to throw off his bid for a walk-off, buzzer-beater on the Timberwolves’ ensuing trip.

“It’s a big reason why DeMarre is here,” Atkinson said of Carroll, who was playing with severely sore ribs. “He’s got an elite defensive ability. For a 31 year old, that was a heck of job. I think a normal contest [on the final play] and Jimmy Butler would have made that shot.”

Joe Harris scored 17 points off the bench and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 10 despite some late foul trouble as Brooklyn rose to the challenge of beating a superior opponent despite the absence of key reserve Caris LeVert, who is nursing a groin injury.

“Really proud of how the team’s progressing and just showing a resiliency that I felt that we didn’t have last year,” Atkinson gushed as the Nets improved to 15-23, a nine-game improvement over where they stood at this point in 2016-17, when they finished an NBA-worst 20-62.

“We felt last year we kind of crumbled in a situation like that where they made a run. We stayed together and really showed a lot of physical and mental toughness.”

That toughness was exemplified by Carroll, whose ribs were sizzling like they were “on a barbecue grill,” by his own account.

He finished with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting with only four rebounds, but when it mattered most, the Nets’ oldest player wouldn’t cede an easy look to the T-Wolves’ top scorer.

“I just think, as a whole, we didn’t play that much good basketball and we get put in that situation, which from the jump could have went either way,” said Butler after Minnesota (24-15) lost for just the second time in its past nine contests.

“At least we fought and got back in the game, but I didn’t make a shot.”

Dinwiddie made his, and now the Nets are eager to continue their winning ways when they host Boston here on Saturday evening in the third game of a thus far blemish-free five-game homestand.

“We did all of the little things,” Atkinson said of how his team overcame 19 turnovers and some tough officiating down the stretch.

The Nets, who snuck past Orlando here by three points on New Year’s Day, would much prefer to put their opponents away early, rather than relying on Dinwiddie to bail them out.

“We really just kind of need to get out of these situations honestly,” Dindwiddie said. “These do-or-die situations. I’d rather just win the game by like 10.”

Nothing But Net: Jahlil Okafor’s long-awaited Barclays debut was relatively quiet, but satisfactory for Atkinson, who has waited for the former Philadelphia center to get himself into game shape and adhere to the Nets’ system since his acquisition back on Dec. 7. Okafor, who had logged 23 minutes for Brooklyn in Toronto on Dec. 15, but hadn’t played since, finished with two points and two rebounds in 11 minutes against the T-Wolves. “I’m happy with the way I performed,” said Okafor. “I’ve tried to work on making the team better and I think some of the stuff I talked about with coach, I was able to achieve such as screen sighting and communicating and being active, having energy, and I was able to do that.” … The Nets held Minnesota to a 1-for-11 shooting effort from 3-point range, while going 14-for-30 from beyond the arc, including a combined 8-of-12 performance from Dinwiddie and Harris. “We only gave up 11 3-point attempts. That’s what we’re looking for, limit 3-point shots,” said Atkinson. “Still want to do a better job of keeping them off the free-throw line, but really good job by our guys following the game plan.


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