By Tom Dowd
Are they all going to be like this? Another six months of high-wire finishes?
For the fourth straight game, the Brooklyn Nets went into the final minutes with a game up for grabs, and for the third time they came out on top, holding off the Cleveland Cavaliers for a 112-107 win at Barclays Center to improve to 3-2 one week into the NBA season.
This win came on the heels of the one game in that stretch the Nets have lost. Tuesday night in Orlando, Brooklyn had multiple double-digit leads but couldn’t hold off the Magic, or execute down the stretch.
It led to a Wednesday film session, where coach Kenny Atkinson conceded, “I wasn’t the nicest person with them this morning.”
“Bouncing back from last night is the real key, and then you add on top of that it’s a great team, it’s a good win for our organization.”
“We watched our breakdowns,” said Spencer Dinwiddie. “He was saying it’s a game that we very easily could have won and we put ourselves in a position to win, but we broke down and didn’t get the win. Maybe it was a little bit or foreshadowing because tonight was another close game.”
For the second night in a row, the Nets blew a double-digit lead. This time it was as many as 14 points, and still an 11-point margin with under nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter. But then Cleveland scored 13 straight points to leave the Nets trailing under the five-minute mark.
But with the Nets trailing by three, they outscored Cleveland 12-7 over the last two minutes for the win.
“We’re not going to celebrate all night long because of this, but I do think we should feel good about ourselves,” said Atkinson. “Bouncing back from last night is the real key, and then you add on top of that it’s a great team, it’s a good win for our organization.”
FOURTH QUARTER FINISH
The Nets had recovered from Cleveland’s run to go shot-for-shot, with big threes from Allen Crabbe for a brief lead and then Spencer Dinwiddie to tie it at 100. Kyle Korver hit from deep for the Cavs and DeMarre Carroll answered for the Nets.
Kevin Love made 1-of-2 from the line to put Cleveland up 104-103. Next possession down, Dinwidde found himself out beyond the top of the 3-point arc with the shot clock under 10.
Dinwiddie pulled up from 31 feet out and knocked it down for a lead the Nets wouldn’t relinquish.
“It’s a shot that I actually work on with Adam Harrington, my player development coach,” said Dinwiddie. “Instead of driving it, I just had the confidence to walk into the three. It was a similar shot to the one I shot against the Knicks in preseason. I’ve actually shot some really uncharacteristically deep threes. But they don’t care, so I’m just letting it fly. I was fortunate enought to make that one, and we won the game.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson followed with a transition layup, set up by Dinwiddie after hauling in a long rebound off a missed 3-pointer. Korver hit again from deep to bring Cleveland within 108-107 but the Nets —despite missing four of six free throws at one stretch — held on with late defensive stops.
“We blew a lead yesterday and today Kenny did a great job showing us on film what we did and how we started going one on one toward the end,” said DeMarre Carroll, who finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and four steals. “We weren’t trusting the system. We weren’t trusting our teammates. I think that was the biggest thing. We trusted each other. We got a win. My hat’s off to Kenny, because if he didn’t come in today and get on us like he did before we went out there and played, we probably wouldn’t have showed up like this.”
Not surprisingly, it was LeBron James orchestrating Cleveland’s 13-0 fourth-quarter run. James set up two baskets on pick and rolls, then scored twice himself to bring the Cavs within three points. Jeff Green made two free throws and Kevin Love’s 3-pointer put Cleveland up 94-92.
James finished with a triple-double of 29 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds while shooting 12-of-20, but also had eight of Cleveland’s 10 turnovers.
DINWIDDIE STARTS … AND FINISHES
Before he helped close out the Cavs, Spencer Dinwiddie got his first start with D’Angelo Russell sidelined by a knee sprain.
And before his go-ahead 3-pointer or free throws to close out the game, Dinwiddie was having a huge night. He finished with a team-high 22 points, six assists, five rebounds and shot 7-of-13 overall and 4-of 8 from 3-point range.
It was a career night for a player who was in the G League a year ago, and had Russell and Jeremy Lin ahead of him in the rotation when the season began.
“Just help the team get a win whatever role that is, whether that’s back up or starting for however long D’Lo’s out,” said Dinwiddie. “In terms of the growth, it’s a credit to the coaching staff … but honestly earlier in my career the previous stops I had they didn’t necessarily believe in me the way this coaching staff does. So it made my road a little bit rocky. Missed shot, you come out. Things like that. They’ve told me to go out there and shoot it, so I’m shooting it.”
When the Nets were struggling from 3-point range early, Dinwiddie had two of their six first-half 3-pointers. In the final minutes, he made one big play after another. With the Nets having been outscored 13-0, Dinwiddie halted the Cleveland run with a driving basket. Down 100-97, he calmly pump-faked as a defender flew by, then drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game at 100.
It was Dinwiddie who found DeMarre Carroll open in the corner for the 3-pointer that tied the game at 103. Then he hit his 31-footer and orchestrated a transition basket by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
“Spencer organized us,” said coach Kenny Atkinson. “He hit some big shots. He was aggressive. We keep pushing him. Be more aggressive. Tonight he really stepped up. Hit some big shots. Played excellent defense. These kind of wins, you feel good about your program because it’s a group effort. There’s guys on the bench, Sean Kilpatrick comes in, contributes. As a coach, these are the wins you really cherish.”
A LATE THREE SPREE
On a night when the Nets couldn’t make much of anything from 3-point range in the first half, they ended up shooting a franchise-record 46 3-pointers. At halftime, they were just 6-of-24 (25 percent) and then they missed their first five of the second half.
Their stroke left and returned in sync with Allen Crabbe. The sharpshooter had been 1-for-7 against Orlando on Tuesday night, and missed his first four against the Cavs. But after Rondae Hollis-Jefferson connected in the third quarter, Crabbe found the stroke and knocked down three in three minutes.
Beginning with Hollis-Jefferson’s 3-pointer, the Nets made 11 of their final 17 attempts. Crabbe finished with 19 points.
“Just keep shooting,” said Crabbe. “Shooters shoot. Nobody on this team is telling me to stop shooting. So they kept telling me the next one’s going to go in, just keep shooting. You saw what happened tonight. You see the first one go in, you get a little more confident. You just keep putting them up and they were going in for me.”
RONDAE GOES LONG
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s 35 minutes were the most any Net has played in a game this season. He finished with a season-high 19 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two assists, upping his season scoring average to 15.0 points.
In addition to making his first two 3-pointers of the season, Hollis-Jefferson mostly attacked the rim to take advantage of Cleveland switches and mismatches.
“That’s one of Rondae’s strengths,” said Atkinson. “They switch Tristan Thompson or a different guy on him, even a small guy. He can really put his head down and get to the rim. I try and pull him back sometimes because I don’t love iso basketball, but I do think he caused them problems with his pentration against their switches.”
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