Sean Kilpatrick cooks like Curry, carries Nets to 103-94 victory
Ah, there’s nothing like the home opener — the stands are full, the three-pointers are falling, and is that Ian Eagle back on the Brooklyn Nets’ beautiful, beautiful herringbone? Before the season goes as many planned, the Nets are still just 0.5 games behind their Boston Celtic rivals and while the defense left much to be desired, there was something worth admiring in Wednesday’s inaugural game: heart.
Head coach Kenny Atkinson, who certainly has a small gulf of talent to make up for each and every night, had the Nets playing tough basketball through to the final whistle. And even though their furious comeback through Isaiah Whitehead, Chris McCullough, and Bojan Bogdanovic came up short, there was another factor worth acknowledgement: hope.
While many people — intelligently — won’t back Bogdanovic’s claim of a Nets’ playoff berth in 2016-2017, those two feelings, heart and hope, have been missing since they moved to Brooklyn. Win or lose, each night, for now, feels like a new opportunity — is Justin Hamilton actually good? Can Jeremy Lin take his game a step further? Will Rondae Hollis-Jefferson eat an opposing player whole?
That sort of optimism was on hand in Brooklyn tonight as the Nets took on the Indiana Pacers, flush with All-Star Paul George, rising sophomore Myles Turner, and, of course, the former darling of the Barclays Center, Thaddeus Young. In what appears as if it’ll be a theme all year, the Nets struggled to finish off the Pacers on the boards, ceding 5 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone. However, their early struggles came mostly from three-point range, starting a dreary 0-8 (including one Hollis-Jefferson airball) before Joe Harris could knock one down.
After going 5-8 from three against Boston, they fired a dismal 32% from the floor in total and thusly trailed 27-20 after 12 minutes.
But, and you know the gist here, these Nets have got some fight in ’em — and they battled back from the early deficit through Lin, Lopez, and Sean Kilpatrick. Thanks to some healthy pick and roll action, the Nets would take a 43-31 lead with 3 minutes to go in the half. Hamilton, who notched a career-high 19 points against the Celtics wouldn’t start quite as fast, but his 5 points and 5 rebounds through two quarters helped the Nets quell some of their issues on the boards and from behind the arc.
The Nets are clearly going to break the NBA record for three-point attempts in a single game — the only question is: would it be tonight?
An 11-0 run for the Pacers to start the second half put the visitors ahead, but a flurry of Lopez buckets would keep them alive… for now. Lin, who struggled at times in the opener looked much better, more spry, and far more springy — even blocking a Monta Ellis fastbreak layup. He’s unlikely to win a game entirely on his own, but with Lopez reaching up back towards the norm, the duo are more than capable — they just need some more help.
Enter: the bench.
Following a couple huge plays by Trevor Booker (see below), the Nets suddenly trailed just 81-78 with 8 minutes to go in the game. With Lopez, Lin, and Booker all on the bench, they needed Greivis Vasquez, Justin Hamilton, Luis Scola, and Kilpatrick to weather the storm — and can you say Vasquez fastbreak pull up three-pointer?
Vasquez fastbreak pull up three-pointer.
Kilpatrick, who had his best quarter as a professional, helped scorch the Pacers en route to a 31-15 fourth quarter. For once, the Nets did not wilt. Which is to say: what has Atkinson gotten into them?
Energy, energy, energy — good lord, this was one of the most entertaining Nets games I’ve watched in years. There’s some unconscious, giddy joy about Kilpatrick taking heat checks over 6’11 defenders or seeing Lin notch the first-near triple double of his Nets career.
That heart? That hope? It was all on full display tonight.
The stats: 25 PTS, 10-18 FG, 5 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 5 TOV
If Wednesday’s opener versus the Celtics was the aberration, business was back to usual against the Pacers. Although he’s probably still shooting too many three-pointers for your liking, the regular amount of touches were all there.
Lopez was crafty in drawing fouls, making the extra pass, and seemed like a much better fit next to Lin tonight — who he barely played with in the season opener. For now, crisis averted.
Back to basics for Brooklyn and Lopez meant that those more anxious than usual could feel warm and fuzzy again.
Down the stretch, the Nets leaned on the long-time veteran and Lopez returned the faith in spades, carrying them to the finish line after Kilpatrick’s inspired performance.
*You may now return to your regularly scheduled Nets game.*
The stats: 2 PTS, 1-5 FG, 5 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 1 TOV
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been a bit anonymous through two games so far, which is disappointing. Although he pulled the difficult Paul George assignment tonight, it seems like he’s been playing out of his element and comfort zone — firing up 2 three-pointers in the first quarter and missing everything on one of them.
One shining moment for him came in the late third quarter as George sized the sophomore up with what seemed like thirty dribbles before darting around a pick towards the hoop. Hollis-Jefferson, who might be the only Net capable of such a moment, swiped the ball from behind and the play eventually ended in two Lin free-throw attempts.
What could’ve been a 10-point deficit after three quarters was just 7 — proving to be huge later on as well. No matter how big or small, Hollis-Jefferson is a difference maker.