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Kurucs shines in Nets exhibition debut

Rookie pours in 13 points as Brooklyn falls to Knicks at Barclays

October 4, 2018 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Nets rookie Rodions Kurucs was so happy to get into his first NBA game Wednesday night at Barclays Center that he nearly took it over before Brooklyn fell to the Knicks, 107-102, in the exhibition opener for both local squads. AP Photo by Mary Altaffer
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Nets rookie Rodions Kurucs waited an entire EuroLeague season plus three quarters of the Brooklyn Nets’ exhibition opener at Barclays Center Wednesday night to get into some meaningful game action.

Finally unleashed from the bench, the 6-foot-9 Latvian made the most of his first 12 minutes in the NBA, scoring 13 points to go with four rebounds, four steals and two assists in the Nets’ 107-102 preseason loss to the New York Knicks in front of 12,424 fans on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

Kurucs, the Nets’ second-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, went 4-of-6 from the floor and 5-of-6 at the free-throw line for Brooklyn, which sat 19-year-old first-round pick Dzanan Musa, but watched as their 20-year-old former FC Barcelona sensation helped his team close the gap on the Knicks in the fourth quarter.

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“It was really emotional for me because I didn’t play last year,” admitted Kurucs, who was relegated to the Barcelona B Squad after declaring himself eligible for the 2017 draft and then pulling out of it days before the event here in Downtown Brooklyn.

“It was a really good moment for me,” he added. “I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed every minute.”

While the rest of the Nets continued to display the glaring issues — poor rebounding, porous defense and living and dying by the 3-pointer — that made them a non-playoff team for the third consecutive season last year, Kurucs opened some eyes on the coaching staff and among his new teammates.

“He’s active, he’s athletic, he plays hard, he knows his role,” D’Angelo Russell said of Kurucs, after putting up 11 points in 20 minutes before taking the rest of the night off.

“He knows what he’s capable of,” Russell added. “He never steps outside the box. He’s the guy that plays hard and brings that energy.”

Kurucs nearly helped the Nets pull out a victory as his free throws with 2:26 to play got Brooklyn within 99-98. He added a pair of layups down the stretch, but the Nets couldn’t overtake the Knicks, who got a game-high 25 points from rookie Allonzo Trier and 22 points and 20 rebounds from center Enes Kanter.

“We need two guys, we need three guys and, I’m going to say this later, we need five guys — five guys coming back to rebound,” Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson insisted after watching his squad get beaten on the boards, 49-45, while shooting a dismal 8-of-41 from 3-point range.

Brooklyn blew a 15-point first-half lead and fell behind by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter before Kurucs led them back into contention, something Atkinson took note of as he continues his player evaluations.

“I loved his energy,” Atkinson said. “He’s a talented guy. He’s got nice length. I liked how he drove it. Showed some good things defensively. … He’s a multi-position player. I think his speed is better than I thought. I was really pleased with how he played, loved his energy he came in with.”

That energy figures to be on display throughout the preseason as Atkinson contemplates whether Kurucs can make an impact on the Nets’ Opening Night roster.

“He doesn’t have any fear,” Atkinson noted. “He’s barreling in there and he’s hitting guys. I just liked how aggressive he was, his overall energy. A real bright spot. I thought it really helped that third unit.”

And Kurucs is more than willing to give everything he’s got to his new head coach.

“What coach gives me, I’ll take it. I’ll use my chance,” he said. “When he puts me in the game, I’ll use it. I’ll play hard, I’ll play 100 percent and we’ll see what Coach Kenny decides

“I can help the team on defense. What Coach needs, I’ll do that to help my team out. I’ll do my best. I’ll give my all.”

Nothing But Net: DeMarre Carroll started at power forward for Brooklyn on Wednesday, taking Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s customary spot in the rotation. Hollis-Jefferson sat out the exhibition opener with a strained left abductor injury. … Caris LeVert scored 15 points in 21 minutes to lead all Nets while Spencer Dinwiddie matched Kurucs with 13 off the bench. … Musa, who injured his ankle while playing with the Bosnian national team during the summer, is healthy and ready to go according to the Nets coaching staff, and may see some action Monday night in Detroit when Brooklyn resumes its exhibition slate. “I was so frustrated that I couldn’t sleep at night because I wasn’t practicing,” Musa said of his inactivity while recovering from the injury. “I was watching training camp, and the guys were fighting, the coaches were all-in, the intensity and stuff, and I was on the bench watching. That was so hard for me. But as I said, I’m happy that I’m here.”


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