Spencer Dinwiddie changed his uniform number from 8 to 26 before Wednesday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons out of respect and admiration for Kobe Bryant., then went out and played the kind of game his NBA idol would have been proud of.
Dinwiddie scored a game-high 28 points off the bench, 10 of which came during a critical fourth-quarter run, as the Brooklyn Nets beat the Pistons, 125-115, in front of an emotionally charged crowd of 14,275 at the Barclays Center.
“I think I still had the emotion but I’m not going to put all that on this situation,” a teary Dinwiddie said in the locker room after his highest-scoring performance of the new year.
“(The) goal of our team is just to come together and try to progress throughout the season,” he added.
Dinwiddie, a Los Angeles native and Kobe fan growing up in South Central, decided that he would no longer wear Bryant’s No. 8 out of respect for the five-time NBA champion, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday morning in California along with his daughter Gianna and seven others.
He chose 26 by adding his own birthday April 20 to that of his son, Elijah, April 6.
The Nets honored the passing of Kobe and Gianna Bryant by leaving empty the two seats they occupied when they last visited Barclays on Dec. 21, a game against Atlanta that saw Dinwiddie pour in 39 points and earn some praise from his mentor, who told him he was playing like an All-Star.
“I felt like this was the first time he was looking at me as the basketball player Spencer, you know what I mean?” Dinwiddie recalled of his court-side encounter with Bryant that night in Brooklyn.
“For him to tell me that in his book I’m an All-Star and stuff like that … I didn’t need to be selected any more, because I was an All-Star, you feel me?”
Dinwiddie was All-Star worthy again Wednesday against the Pistons, going 8-of-13 from the floor, 4-of-8 from 3-point range and 8-of-11 at the free-throw line.
He also grabbed three rebounds, handed out six assists and committed only one turnover in 29 scintillating minutes.
When the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Dinwiddie did his best “Mamba” imitation, drilling a pair of 3-pointers and adding two more baskets during a 12-4 burst that put Brooklyn in front to stay, 111-97.
“Obviously, Spencer was outstanding, really had that aggressive downhill mentality that we love,” Nets Head Coach Kenny Atkinson said after watching his team win for the second time in three games, both against Detroit, after losing five straight and 12 of their previous 14 contests.
Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who sat out Sunday’s loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden due to his grief over Bryant’s passing, returned to the lineup against the Pistons and scored 20 points.
“I couldn’t even come up with wanting to play that game (on Sunday),” said Irving, who was visibly shaken during the Nets’ pregame tribute to Bryant. “It was so heartbreaking, and it still is. I’m doing my best.”
Taurean Prince scored 22 points and Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert added 11 apiece for Brooklyn, which committed just nine turnovers while forcing 16.
“For all of us, I feel like basketball is our safe haven,” said Allen. “When we’re on the court, when we’re playing with each other, when we see our guys out there doing well, it calms everybody down. It’s like our little home that we can retreat back into.”
The Nets will remain home to host the Chicago Bulls on Friday night in a game that could prove critical to their playoff hopes down the stretch.
Brooklyn (20-26) is three games in front of Chicago (19-31) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and has already beaten the Bulls on the road in the first of four scheduled meetings between the teams.
Putting potential postseason tiebreakers aside, however, Atkinson believes Wednesday’s win was a healing experience for his team, which has been in deep mourning since news of Bryant’s death began filtering down Sunday.
“Yeah, and I think it helps to be home,” Atkinson noted. “To hear the Barclays crowd, chanting Kobe’s name, and then the seats there — it felt we could touch it a little more because we were home. I don’t know if that makes sense. That’s how I felt anyway.”
Nothing But Net: Nets guard Garrett Temple scored 10 points Wednesday before leaving the game in the first half to get stitches over his left eye. After hosting the Bulls on Friday, the Nets will make a quick trip to our nation’s capital to face the Washington Wizards. Brooklyn will be back at Barclays on Monday to take on Phoenix before hosting Golden State here on Wednesday night.