Historic win was a must for road-weary Nets
Epic comeback in Sacramento prevents 0-4 start to elongated trip
Kenny Atkinson was already preparing to take the blame for what was shaping up as his team’s fourth consecutive loss on this seven-game road trip from hell.
His Brooklyn Nets were down by 28 points late in the third quarter and 25 entering the fourth in Sacramento Tuesday night.
“I wasn’t expecting an amazing comeback. I just have to be honest,” the Nets’ third-year head coach readily ceded.
And then, miraculously, Brooklyn outscored the Kings by 27 points over the final 12 minutes, pulling out a still-hard-to-believe 123-121 victory on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s reverse layup with under a second remaining.
The acrobatic basket sent the Nets into a wild celebration and stunned the sellout crowd of 17,583 at Golden 1 Center, many of whom had already exited the building with Sacramento having seemingly secured the win.
“I’m speechless really. The locker room wasn’t speechless. That’s a jubilant locker room,” Atkinson gushed after the Nets completed the largest second-half comeback in team history and became just the fourth team in the shot-clock era (post-1955) to make up a 25-point fourth-quarter deficit
Atkinson, who admittedly failed to find a way to pick up his team during three quarters of porous play, intimated during his post-game press conference that he and his team were at their “wit’s end” entering the final period.
“The coaching was terrible,” Atkinson said. “The zone was terrible. I used up my timeouts. They never responded. We put a group of players out there that have a great bond and a great spirit and were working their tails off behind closed doors. It was 100 percent on them. That’s player ownership.”
D’Angelo Russell was the key to Brooklyn’s signature win of the season, scoring 27 of his career-high 44 points in the fourth quarter.
But it was the unexpected contributions of Hollis-Jefferson (13 points) and Jared Dudley (14 points) off the bench that fueled this improbable rise from the ashes.
“It’s just a credit to those guys that haven’t been playing and their work ethic and stick-to-it and all the extra work they’ve done while they weren’t playing and the stay-ready thing, it’s a beautiful story,” Atkinson said. “They got hot obviously; D’Lo supported them. It was a heck of a comeback, heck of a win.”
It was also the type of win the Nets needed after seeing their once-formidable grip on an Eastern Conference playoff spot become, at best, tenuous.
“It was kind of desperation,” Atkinson admitted after Brooklyn remained one-and-a-half games ahead of eighth-place Miami and three clear of Orlando, the first team on the outside looking in at the postseason picture, with 10 games to play.
That desperate approach helped the Nets climb back above the .500 mark at 37-36 with three stops remaining on this epic trek across three time zones.
Brooklyn will be in Los Angeles Friday night to take on LeBron James and the Lakers before flying up to Portland on Monday and heading back east next Thursday for a game against Philadelphia.
But by their own admission, the Nets knew that ending their second three-game slide in the past three weeks was the key to getting some of their swagger back as this daunting trip continues.
“We knew going into the game, win by any means,” said Russell. “That was the key to the game. Do whatever you got to do to win. Everybody came, stepped up and did their jobs.”
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