Entering tonight’s matchup versus the Phoenix Suns, the Brooklyn Nets were hoping to begin a new win streak. And with Suns coming off a devastating triple overtime loss to the Washington Wizards last night, Brooklyn couldn’t have asked for an easier opponent.
Needless to say, defeating the Suns could have many implications for this young Nets team, giving them the much-needed confidence that they can bounce back when challenged. The Suns, whose four-game win streak ended last night, were trying to show that same resilience as they too attempt to save their season.
Throughout the contest, the Nets struggled to guard Deandre Ayton, the most recent No. 1 overall selection. The talented center put his offensive skills on display in the first quarter, even scoring ten of Phoenix’s first 19 points. But the 8-25 Suns couldn’t contain Brooklyn’s offense, in turn allowing 38 points in the first of their own.
This was exactly the type of start the Nets needed.
The second quarter featured a strong performance from Ed Davis, who scored eight points in the period. In the first half, he shot a perfect 5-for-5 and held his own against Ayton. Playing only 17 minutes per game, the gritty forward has been a consistent force off the bench this season.
Going into the half up 63-56, Brooklyn needed to focus on two objectives. First, they needed to play clean basketball, as they turned the ball over eight times in the first half. Second, Brooklyn had to find a way to slow down the aforementioned Ayton.
The Nets opened the third quarter 0-6 from the field, seeing their lead shrink to two points. All signs pointed to the Suns taking the lead.
Uh oh, here comes the third quarter collapse.
But the Nets responded in force as Joe Harris and D’Angelo Russell hit back-to-back three-pointers, extending Brooklyn’s lead to eight. After 12 points in the first half, “The Rodi Show” continued in the third. Following his first bucket of the half, Rodions Kurucs blocked Devin Booker and then finished on the other end with a right-handed slam. That 13-0 Nets run gave them a 15 point lead with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Nets would never look back.
In the fourth quarter, the Suns never really posed much of a threat to the Nets’ double-digit lead but slowly cut into it over time. Brooklyn continued playing team-oriented basketball, spreading the ball and getting to the basket at an efficient rate.
Each time Brooklyn’s lead was even slightly threatened, Spencer Dinwiddie had an answer. Tonight, he fulfilled Caris LeVert’s role as closer, and a position the newly-signed guard has embraced over the last two seasons.
The Nets beat the Suns by a score of 111-103, handing them the series sweep.
In other years and other systems, Brooklyn would’ve found a way to lose this one. By bouncing back from Friday night’s streak-ending loss, the Nets have shown just how much they have grown this season.
The stats: 24 PTS, 7-14 FG, 2-5 3PT, 8-9 FT, 2 REB, 7 AST, 3 TO, 27 MIN
Where would the Nets be without Spencer Dinwiddie?
Once again, Dinwiddie provided the Nets with a big offensive performance, extending his streak of double-digit points off the bench.
Dinwiddie played closer tonight as well, answering each Phoenix run with a basket of his own.
It’s not always flashy, it’s not always brilliant — but it’s almost always just what the Nets need.
The stats: 18 PTS, 6-18 FG, 2-5 3PT, 4-4 FT, 6 REB, 8 AST, 2 STL, 7 TO, 30 MIN
D’Angelo Russell responded from a rough shooting performance against the Pacers in spades. Tonight, Russell scored 18 points and dished out eight assists as well. On one assist, he fed Kurucs beautifully, a move that led to a dunk.
Despite his high assist number, Russell had seven turnovers. Coming into the game, he averaged just under three turnovers per game, so tonight will hopefully just be a hiccup on that front.
This is one helluva pass from D’Angelo Russell to Rodions Kurucs pic.twitter.com/0WkTuS4ajY
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) December 24, 2018
The stats: 16 PTS, 7-15 FG, 10 REB, 2 AST, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 32 MIN
Rodions Kurucs has already established himself as a fan-favorite player.
His energy and effort on the court is something not seen in every NBA player, so it’s refreshing to watch the second round pick develop naturally in Brooklyn’s system.
Coming off a career-high 24 points in Friday’s loss to the Pacers, Kurucs scored 12 points in the first half and took full advantage of Phoenix’s porous defense.
In another fantastic performance, the Latvian secured his first career double-double, showing off his nose for the ball.
It may have gone unnoticed, but Kurucs guarded potent-scorer Devin Booker. Defending a player of that caliber shows head coach Kenny Atkinson’s confidence in the rookie, which he seems to earn more of each game.
Could Rodions Kurucs be a star in the making?
The stats: 15 PTS, 7-8 FG, 1-7 FT, 9 REB, 3 STL, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 24 MIN
Ed Davis is perhaps the best 2018 free-agent acquisition for Brooklyn, and he continued to prove his value tonight.
Davis, who is averaging over eight rebounds per game, pulled down nine tonight to go along with another efficient scoring display.
Those three steals tied his career high, as Davis showed off his sharp-witted defensive prowess. He also swatted a Jamal Crawford layup, which was his only block of the contest.
Down the stretch, it was Davis who played instead of Jarrett Allen. And the veteran showed that he was more capable of both defending and boxing-out Ayton.
The only downside of his performance was his production at the free throw line. Converting on only one out of seven attempts is abysmal. Even though he is a career 58% from the stripe, Davis needs to be better than that, especially if he wants to finish out games.
.@eddavisXVII says N🚫PE https://t.co/qgJep08UhU
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) December 24, 2018
The stats: 11 PTS, 5-9 FG, 1-1 3PT, 9 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 23 MIN
On the offensive end, Jarrett Allen was solid as usual and scored 11 points, even hitting his fourth three of the season.
Allen was also a rebound shy of his 13th double-double of the campaign. But Allen’s shoddy defense on Deandre Ayton prompted Atkinson to defer to Davis for the fourth quarter.
Allen struggled in the matchup against Ayton, who put up 26 points and 18 rebounds tonight. It goes without saying, however, that Allen wasn’t the only one to struggle against the rookie this season.
Despite his defensive difficulties, the Fro finished with a plus-minus of plus-12.