‘Resilient’ Nets finally get even in Houston
Complete long climb back to .500 following thrilling OT win
When the Brooklyn Nets were 8-18 six weeks ago and on the wrong end of seemingly every late fourth-quarter surge, third-year head coach Kenny Atkinson continued to preach what he called one of his core principles: resiliency.
Never in the modern history of this Downtown-based franchise was that characteristic more evident than in Houston on Wednesday night.
Buoyed by Spencer Dinwiddie’s dead-eye shooting, Jarrett Allen’s first career 20-20 game in front of his hometown fans and the Nets’ collective refusal to bow under the duress of reigning MVP James Harden’s latest record-setting performance, Brooklyn found a way to escape H-Town with a monumental win.
Dinwiddie scored 25 of his team-high 33 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, Allen finished with 20 points and 24 rebounds and the Nets somehow overcame Harden’s 58 points in a memorably wild 145-142 victory over the Rockets in front of a sellout crowd of 18,055 at the Toyota Center.
“One of our core principles is resiliency and we showed that,” Atkinson gushed after his team climbed back to .500 (23-23) for the first time since being 6-6 on Nov. 9.
“We showed that really all season. We’ve been decimated by injuries. We found a way to pull together and grind out wins and really turn our season around.”
And they turned this game around, twice.
Trailing by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter and eight with just over a minute to go, the Nets forced overtime thanks to three 3-point bombs from Dinwiddie in the final half minute, the last of which splashed through with 8.4 seconds to go in regulation for a 131-131 deadlock.
“Just fantastic; he was unbelievable,” Atkinson said of Brooklyn’s Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
“The 3s were great, but I also love how he was driving the ball to the rim, too.”
While Harden was piling up a season-high 58 points, just one game after putting up 57 against Memphis on Monday night, the Nets continued to display their resilience in the extra session.
James Nunnally’s 3-pointer with a minute and a half left in OT seemed to once again spell doom for Brooklyn, which trailed 142-135 after the 24-footer swished through the twine.
But the Rockets, who put up an NBA-record 70 3-pointers during the donnybrook, never scored again.
Treveon Graham drained a rare 3-pointer; Allen, the second-year University of Texas alum and native of Austin, made a layup in the lane; and Dinwiddie converted a three-point play on a drive to the basket that put the Nets in front to stay, 143-142, with 28 ticks on the clock.
Joe Harris iced the game at the line with two free throws before Gerald Green’s bid for a tying 3-pointer rimmed out at the buzzer, launching the Nets’ bench into a wild celebration after twice being left for dead.
“It was like: ‘Down nine. Down six. Down three. Oh, tied? Let’s get a stop,'” Dinwiddie said of Brooklyn’s epic comeback, which helped the Nets climb into a tie with Miami for sixth place in the ongoing Eastern Conference playoff race.
“That’s really all it was,” Dinwiddie added after leading seven Nets who finished the game in double digits, including all five starters.
DeMarre Carroll poured in 22 points off the bench, Graham had a career-high 21, Harris finished with 17 and rookie Rodions Kurucs added 14 for Brooklyn, which did most of its best work with All-Star candidate D’Angelo Russell (10 points) watching from the bench.
The Nets finally appear to have found a fix for the bugaboo that has derailed many of their games during Atkinson’s two-plus seasons at the helm.
Where once they would have melted down the stretch against a tough opponent or given away a big lead in the fourth quarter, they are now one of the toughest outs in the NBA.
Brooklyn’s 15-5 record since Dec. 7 is the second-best on the entire circuit. The Nets are back at the break-even mark, something they haven’t achieved this late in a season since the 2013-14 campaign.
It’s certainly been a long, hard road back to respectability and relevance for Atkinson’s crew, but where this team goes next is even more important and may require even more resilience.
“That’s big-time progress,” Atkinson admitted of reaching the .500 mark.
“The way our seasons have gone in the past, to beat that caliber of team and be in the playoff race and beat one of the best teams in the league and arguably the best player in the league when he basically gave us 60 points … that’s a testament to our group.”
And an even stronger testament to how this team, which had gone a collective 48-116 during Atkinson’s first two seasons, continues to buy in and believe that better days are ahead for Brooklyn basketball.
Nothing But Net: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who had missed the previous seven games with a right abductor strain, played seven minutes off the bench in Houston, scoring three points and grabbing four rebounds. … The Nets will be in Orlando on Friday night to take on the Magic before returning to the Barclays Center on Martin Luther King Day (Monday) to host the Sacramento Kings. Brooklyn has won nine of its last 10 games on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. … The Nets and Rockets combined for a league record 106 3-pointers Wednesday, with Houston going 23-for-70 and Brooklyn finishing 16-for-36 from long range.
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