Nets display maturity in epic comeback win
Rally from 19-point first-half deficit to breeze past visiting Hawks
Even Kenny Atkinson had to admit that previous versions of his Brooklyn Nets would not have been able to overcome a 19-point first-half deficit, much less a 38-point first quarter by an opponent.
But that was then, and this is now for the playoff-hungry team on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
“We’ve got a good group. I hate repeating this, but I don’t think we win that game last year or the year before,” the Nets’ third-year head coach ceded after Brooklyn rallied for a 116-100 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in front of 14,531 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“I thought we really locked down, showed a lot of maturity,” Atkinson added.
The Nets (21-22) not only enjoyed their largest comeback of the Brooklyn era and biggest overall since 2012, when the franchise was still based in New Jersey, but they also climbed percentage points ahead of Miami for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
That hardly seemed possible when the rebuilding Hawks (12-29) raced out to a 38-23 lead after 12 minutes and built that advantage to 46-27 less than three minutes into the second quarter.
But buoyed by D’Angelo Russell’s strong all-around play, Joe Harris’ penchant for clutch outside shooting and Ed Davis’ season-high 17 rebounds off the bench, the Nets cut the deficit to six points by halftime and opened the fourth quarter with an 86-80 lead.
“Guys just vocalized that we needed to pick up the energy, just compete harder,” Harris said.
“That’s all it really boiled down to. It had nothing to do with Xs and Os, making shots, anything like that. It was just competing harder and we did a better job to help us in the defensive end in the second quarter.”
Russell finished with a team-high 23 points on 11-of-20 shooting, Harris knocked down four 3-pointers en route to 16 points and Davis became the first Nets reserve to rebound that well off the bench since Jamie Feick for New Jersey back in 2000.
“You kind of feel the momentum shifting a little bit at that time,” Harris said of the comeback, which resulted in the Nets’ 13th win in 17 games since ending a season-high eight-game slide just over a month ago.
“I think obviously we started making shots, but we picked it up on the defensive end as well,” Harris added. “That’s really what kind of propelled us to the lead that we got.”
DeMarre Carroll, who missed Monday’s loss in Boston with a sore left knee, came roaring back to the lineup with 17 points and sixth man extraordinaire Spencer Dinwiddie added 16 for Brooklyn, which will try to keep its unexpected resurgence into playoff contention going Friday night at conference powerhouse Toronto.
“We came a long way. I don’t think in the beginning of the year we would have finished the game out like we did,” admitted second-year center Jarrett Allen, who finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three blocked shots.
“But now we’ve grown, we play harder, we play tougher and we’re showing that we’ve improved a lot.”
Improvement and growth were things Atkinson stressed vehemently without many results throughout the first two years of his tenure here while the Nets went an NBA-worst 48-116 during that span.
Now, the Nets are displaying clear signs of both as they pursue the franchise’s first postseason berth since the 2014-15 campaign.
Nothing But Net: The Nets did suffer a big loss Wednesday night as veteran starting power forward Jared Dudley, who spearheaded the team’s players-only film session on Dec. 6 that helped turn the season around, went down with a left hamstring injury in the second quarter. There was no update following the game on when Dudley would be eligible to return. “Obviously, Jared is probably our most vocal guy in terms of a veteran leader,” Harris said. “He really is sort of the voice, coach on the floor. You don’t see it in the stat sheet every night. He’s capable of having big games, obviously, but he does a lot more for us. Hopefully he can get back soon because he is a very integral part of this team.” … After visiting the Raptors on Friday, the Nets will fly back to Brooklyn and host the Celtics Monday night at Barclays Center.