Fresh off the major holiday, the Brooklyn Nets were faced with one of their biggest challenges thus far in a home-and-home with the Charlotte Hornets. Led by future All-Star Kemba Walker, the Hornets have often run just as hot-and-cold as the Nets have through the first 30-plus contests. At times, Charlotte can look like a soon-to-be member of the conference elite, but in other, they’ve looked like they’re headed to the lottery for the third year running. But all that aside, these back-to-back games offered a new opportunity to the Nets: Would they rise to the occasion? Or would they squander a golden chance to prove that they belonged?
Through one half of the potentially season-defining experiment, Brooklyn was clearly game for the double overtime insanity that would lie ahead of them.
Clearly, however, the Nets weren’t looking to change too much up from their winning formula. The first half featured most of your standard Nets fare: Jarrett Allen highlights, D’Angelo Russell trying to figure out if he’s scorching-hot or icy-cold, and the Nets struggling to stop the other side from scoring at-will. Everybody’s Favorite Latvian, Rodions Kurucs, soared in for a first quarter steal near halfcourt to energize a lethargic crowd, but those two points were just a blip within the Hornets shooting 57.1% from the floor in the opening frame.
Thankfully, the Nets — who shot just 1-for-8 from three-point range early on — had something to say about that. Making up for inconsistent marks, Brooklyn began to drive the ball and play unselfishly. In desperate need for a jolt in the arm, head coach Kenny Atkinson went with Kurucs and the rookie delivered in spades. Even when he’s not scoring, Kurucs has the ability show up right where he’s needed most. From ensuring that the ball keeps pinging around the herringbone to making tough defensive efforts, he finds his spots and executes. Kurucs, not playing like a 20-year-old, helped the Nets hang around for the remainder of the half, even if his numbers didn’t support that final conclusion. Elsewhere, the Nets went back-to-back-to-back-(to-miss)-to-back from three-point range — via Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Dinwiddie and then Harris again, that last one at the buzzer — to skip ahead of Charlotte and take a deserved lead into the locker room.
With Russell lighting the floor up to begin the third frame, the Nets built up their largest lead of the game. But with him glued to the bench and Kurucs forced there with him after a technical foul, Brooklyn had no choice but to enter another slugfest. Walker, the Eastern Conference’s best point guard for this author’s esteemed money, continued to torch whomever the Nets stuck on him. Outside of Russell, Harris and Dinwiddie, Brooklyn had an evenly-dispersed effort — for better or for worse. But the Hornets and their third-best bench scoring unit in the NBA — just behind the Nets, for the record — were held to just 12 total points through 36 minutes. If the Nets could manage to slow down Walker, they’d be in pole position to win the game.
That, unfortunately, is much easier said than done.
Walker kept cooking and that lead seesawed right along with it. 87-86, Charlotte. 88-88. All the while, Hollis-Jefferson, who started the half on Walker, tried his hand as the small ball five against Willy Hernangomez, a legit seven-footer. The results, naturally, were iffy. Size and muscle aside, the Nets stayed tough thanks to the usual suspects. 92-91. Then 98-94. Slipping away, the Nets need an answer for Walker and quickly. Fueled by Walker’s one-man show — and a 12-0 run all on his lonesome — the Nets appeared like bystanders in their own building. Dinwiddie nailed his sixth three-pointer of the night to cut Charlotte’s lead to just five with three minutes remaining but was struggling to mark Walker on the opposite end.
Kurucs’ gutsy, game-tying three-pointer was immediately canceled out by a questionable foul call on Jeremy Lamb during the next possession — see y’all in the L2M report tomorrow — leaving the Nets to pick up the pieces once again. After Dinwiddie went to the well a little too early, Harris propped himself up in the corner after the offensive rebound. Buckets, blouses, whatever — Harris had the Nets covered again. 104-104 and game on. Following a Monk And-1, Harris answered promptly again, only for Marvin Williams to knock down a Walker kick out.
Could they make a three-pointer on their fourth consecutive possession?
Well, yes and no. Given second life on a jump ball, Dinwiddie proceeded to draw a three-pointer with just 6.5 seconds remaining — cash, of course, on every look. Tied at 113 but that woe-is-me-as-a-Nets-supporter Walker buzzer-beater loomed. Annnnnnnnnnd inhale sharply… andstaywithmeherebecauseitisalot.
Walker made his first free throw and then missed his second intentionally, Hornets up one. With Brooklyn out of timeouts, DeMarre Carroll then attempted to heave from half court, only to be fouled by the aforementioned Walker. Ruled as a pass attempt, Carroll got two free throws and promptly made the first. He then missed the second, but the Hornets were called for a clear lane violation. Carroll, sadly, could not make them pay. Overtime.
Exhale, I guess — but be ready to do this all again in a few minutes.
After both teams traded blows (and some bricks), the Nets led 120-119 with a minute to go. Kurucs dropped a bucket-denying block on future Hall of Famer Tony Parker, but then wildly gave it away on the other end — a rapid-fire cancelation for the ages. Dinwiddie put down a free throw with 22 seconds left to tie things back up but wishing to stop Walker in a late clutch-game situation twice in one game seems like a fool’s errand.
And yet, they forced the ball out of Walker’s hands, where Parker tossed an ugly leaner off the backboard. The Nets, with 0.6 left on the clock, ran a lob play for Dinwiddie and just barely missed the mark. More drama, of course, because that’s how these things work post-Christmas — just ask Randy Foye.
Dinwiddie started double overtime off by destroying Parker en route to the old-fashioned four-point play, but Lamb quickly countered with a deep three of his own. Every question has its own answer — which sounds like a fake quote from every freshman philosophy class in the country — but one that definitely applies to the madness that embodied this basketball game nevertheless.
Following an always-timely Jared Dudley bomb and a Harris baseline gimme, the Nets suddenly had a six-point lead. Now, for once, instead of chasing, they just had to see a game out. In quick-fire succession, Malik Monk nailed his own three-pointer before Dinwiddie, out of control, missed his own, and Walker answered with an And-1 to tie this mind-blowing affair back up. I mean, you didn’t actually think they’d see this one out that easily, right?
UNTIL JOE HARRIS CAME TO SAVE THE DAY LIKE A POST-CHRISTMAS MIRACLE.
— NBA (@NBA) December 27, 2018
Monk, pounding the life out of the ball, lost control near the arc, only for Harris to scoop up the rock and head coast-to-coast. Laying in the go-ahead bucket with about three seconds remaining, the Hornets attempted to counter their final punch with zero timeouts in their pocket. But with Walker storming upcourt, the 24-second clock from Monk’s malfunctioned previous possession hadn’t reset, thus prompting the incorrect buzzer to ring. After the confusion subsided, the Hornets got a free timeout and one last half-court heave to shock the hearts of the Brooklyn faithful.
And nope — not this time, Satan!
For once, the final bounce of the ball finally went the Nets way.
Embrace that feeling — win or lose, the Brooklyn Nets are here to fight, make big shots, and punch above their weight. The Nets have badly needed another galvanizing, streak-starting win under their belts and this grimy, ugly, clutch win certainly fits the bill.
Let’s do it all again on Friday, yeah?
Rodions Kurucs Power Forward
13 PTS, 6-9 FG, 12 REB, 3 AST, 3 STL, 1 BLK
He’s everywhere and nowhere. He’s behind the arc and cutting backdoor all at once. He’s soaring for dunks and stealing dunks with a careless, breezy effortlessness. Sometimes the box score doesn’t back up all of this website’s endless fawning over the rookie, but you’ll have to take our word for it. Every great squad needs their little-things-glue-guy — for now, it’s clearly Kurucs filling that role.
Kurucs wasn’t a world-beater versus Charlotte, but he hit a game-tying three-pointer with less than two minutes remaining — can you believe he’s just 20 years-old? It never gets old typing that one.
Although his overtime swat on Parker was ultimately wasted by his prompt turnover on the other end — who would’ve guessed that Kurucs as an overtime feature was even possible back in October?
Of course, head coach Kenny Atkinson continues to posture about Kurucs’ minutes upon Allen Crabbe’s imminent return — but it’s incredibly obvious that the Nets will suffer if the Latvian drops back down in the rotation. The Nets are better when Kurucs is on the floor, that’s the end of the entire story.
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) December 27, 2018
D’Angelo Russell Point Guard
16 PTS, 7-18 FG, 4 AST, 1 STL
It’s been pointed out before, but you get a strong indication of the night ahead based on the first five-or-so shots out of D’Angelo Russell. When he’s hot, the Nets will look the part too. When he’s chilly, the Nets struggle out of the gates to match. So, most often, Brooklyn will look to get Russell involved immediately — tonight, in any case, started as a mixed bag. Thanks to a slow start, the Nets were down by seven after the first 12 minutes. These observations have direct correlations and, at this point in the season, it’s a compelling narrative.
It’s seemingly irrelevant on a night like this, but it bears mentioning: Russell sat the late game again with Dinwiddie and Harris on their torrid heaters.
Joe Harris Shooting Guard
27 PTS, 11-14 FG, 5-8 3PT, 6 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL
Is Joey Buckets more like Santa Clause, delivering presents to all, or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, leading the way through the fog? Either way, Joe Harris’ quick-hitting arrival to this game made all the difference for Brooklyn. Efficient, unselfish and clinical, Harris is the poster boy for what the Nets are trying to build. Some guys have all-world efforts and others have disappointing, game-defining cold streaks, but not Harris.
Harris, with the game on the line, calmly faded to the corner and crushed his fourth three-pointer. With the Nets back down three again moments later, he peeled off a screen and did it again for number five. Clutch money sniper, move over, Kevin Durant.
Later on, Harris scored the most important bucket of the night: the final one. His one-man fastbreak at the end of double overtime was the long-awaited winner. Bathe it all in, Joe.
Dinwiddie gets all the attention for that well-deserved extension, but Harris has been one of Brooklyn’s best players for quite some time too.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Power Forward
16 PTS, 7-16 FG, 15 REB, 6 AST, 3 BLK
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has had some absolutely wild shooting nights lately, but even when he isn’t converting on that herky-jerky motion, the Nets’ best stretch four still contributes elsewhere. He’s often still tasked with defending the opposing team’s best player and Walker is no slouch, but Hollis-Jefferson didn’t supply the regular prowess. Of course, a 15-rebound double-double is nothing to scoff at either.
Ultimately, it wasn’t Hollis-Jefferson’s best game, but it wasn’t his worst either. Without him, the Nets probably don’t have any business hanging around either — basketball is funny that way all the time.
Spencer Dinwiddie Point Guard
37 PTS, 12-29 FG, 7-16 3PT, 11 AST, 1 TO
You’ve seen Spencer Dinwiddie in the Most Improved Player conversation. Then he won the Skills Competition last All-Star break. He’s in the Sixth Man of the Year talks now — but how about Dinwiddie for the Three-Point Contest?
Dinwiddie dropped seven three-pointers and practically willed the Nets to the finish line late on through regulation and both overtime periods. His shot selection was bailed out at times, but it’s hard to fault the Nets’ high-scorer when he goes toe-to-toe with an All-Star and comes out on top. When the game gets spicy, Dinwiddie gets even spicier.
A near-40-point double-double? What can’t this guy do?
If that wasn’t good enough, then came this from Nets PR during post-game:
Dinwiddie is the fifth player in NBA history since starters were 1st tracked in 1970-71 to record 35+ points and 10+ assists in a game off the bench. The rest of the list includes Lou Williams (2017-18) Jamal Crawford (2013-14) Brian Winters (1981-82) Pete Maravich (1973-74). That’s some pretty good company, Spence.