On a night in which the Brooklyn Nets were actually met with relative fanfare, their away matchup with the Sacramento Kings represented something else incredibly important: a winnable game.
Following the Kings’ strange dismissal of DeMarcus Cousins for a buddy-sized bounty, the Nets, perhaps even, came in as favorites. Even as the Nets fed Brook Lopez until he passed the 10,000 point mark in his career — a total surpassed by only Buck Williams at 10,440 — the rest of the team managed to show up as well.
You know what they say: if Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is hitting three-pointers, life is pretty good. Mix in some healthy, springy Jeremy Lin and a retro-remixed Caris LeVert and you’d have a Nets squad, looking refreshed and well-organized, that jumped out to a 21-6 lead. Unfortunately, without Bojan Bogdanovic around to help anchor the second unit, the Nets majorly struggled to score without Lin or Lopez on the floor.
Not for a lack of effort on Joe Harris, Trevor Booker, and Isaiah Whitehead’s ends, but the Nets surrendered five straight three-pointers, the YES Truck stumped the broadcast team, and Arron Afflalo dropped 10 points to push the game back towards normalcy by quarter’s end.
Thankfully, it was Whitehead — check out this week’s article on him! — to bring a much-needed scoring punch off the bench that kept the Nets afloat. At this point, particularly so after the Bogdanovic deal, we knew that the Nets would suffer both offensively and defensively at times, but the need to rely on a second-round rookie should assert a new set of questions for Atkinson.
Either way, the Lin-Lopez combination reunited late in the second quarter enough times to keep the Nets ahead of the surging Kings 57-54 at halftime.
The Nets’ other promising rookie, LeVert, took the second half by storm and will remain a staple in the starting lineup even as things start to wind down. Along with Lin and Hollis-Jefferson, the trio combined for an inspired start to the frame and put the Nets back up at an arm’s length. However, it was just a matter of time before those first half issues arose again and the process repeated — Harris continued to stay cold, Sean Kilpatrick struggled to dribble in a straight line, and Justin Hamilton offered little under the rim against the speedier Kings unit.
No Lin, no Lopez, all the problems.
An injection of frenetic effort from Quincy Acy — welcome back! — would spur the Nets on through to a decent lead, 91-82, with just about half of the final quarter remaining. With Dave Joerger insisting on rookie Skal Labissiere guarding Lopez, the Nets earned a couple of back-to-back easy buckets after the big fella mouthed to Atkinson “get me the ball.”
But with under 3 minutes to go, Tyreke Evans, who was on the losing side of the Nets’ last win in New Orleans, sparked a late run to cut their deficit to just six points. The Nets, looking to stave off a gut-wrenching loss, turned to Lin and Lopez to finish things up strong. Leaning hard on the dwindling clock, Lin found Lopez at the free throw line and earned a pair of his own seconds later.
This, of course, is what the Nets have been missing in the late fourth quarter all season — so, even though it’s just the stumbling Kings, it’s nice to see the Nets see one out until the final buzzer. The loss also helps the Nets avoid setting the worst losing streak in franchise history, so, hey, you know, little victories…
The stats: 24 PTS, 9-17 FG, 8 REB, 1 BLK, 4 TOV
Whether or not you wanted Brook Lopez traded last week, you’ve got to respect his place in Nets franchise history.
He’s now the second player to ever eclipse 10,000 points for the franchise and is within reach of Buck Williams for the top spot. Lopez only has to average about 19 points from here on out to take the top spot.
For a dude that might not be around come next October, let’s make this one a priority.
The stats: 13 PTS, 6-9 FG, 7 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 2 TOV
At times, I just sit here and shake my head at Caris LeVert’s unreal maturity and playmaking abilities already. Give this dude a full off-season and a Summer League and y’all are going to be ready to nominate him as the NBA’s next budding overlord.
In the third quarter, he hit Darren Collison with a dizzying turnaround straight out of Kobe Bryant’s book of tricks and looked like a galloping stallion of hope when alone in transition.
Yes, it’s early but the signs are so, so hopeful for LeVert both this year and for many to come.