The Nets are a very different team than the one that played Denver just a few weeks ago. Sunday’s gritty victory showed how much.
The shorthanded Nets came from behind in the final minute to pull out a 105-102 win over the Nuggets before a crowd of 16,679 at Barclays Center.
The last time these two faced off, the Nets lost a heartbreaker and their star point guard. They had blown a 16-point third-quarter cushion, and Kyrie Irving aggravated a shoulder impingement suffered two days earlier in Utah.
But the Nets (13-10) have gone 9-3 since Irving went down. And in his absence, Spencer Dinwiddie has stepped up. Dinwiddie had a game-high tying 24 points, handed out a game-high eight assists, and scored not one but two go-ahead layups in the final minute.
“It was big-time. Obviously you want to protect home court. These tough games with our stars out are even more important,” Dinwiddie said in a postgame interview. “As long as we hold teams near 100 points we can [win].”
Down 100-99, Dinwiddie scored a go-ahead bucket with 42 seconds left. After the Nets allowed a basket, he scored again with 13.6 seconds left, then forced Will Barton into a miss to make sure there was no overtime.
The Nets won despite shooting just 7 of 28 from deep. But they bludgeoned Denver (14-7) on the boards with a 48-37 edge.
Jarrett Allen had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and the Nets showed their growth to beat the Northwest leaders without Irving and Caris LeVert.
“How have we changed? I think the rotations have changed,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I do think we had a great chance of beating Denver in Denver, we blew the big lead, played well most of the game and really didn’t come up with a big rebound I felt at the end of the game. Sometimes when guys are out they also watch our defense is improving.
“There’s no reason we can’t improve. Continuity … that’s huge. Just having a group together for a long period of time, you’re seeing that a little bit with this group now to know their role, know when they’re coming in and that’s how teams grow. Last year we started out poorly defensively and through continuity and habits we kept getting better. I don’t see why we can’t do that when everybody’s back.”
When they played in Denver, the Nuggets had a 52-46 edge in the paint. Sunday the Nets outscored the Nuggets 66-22 in the paint. Even so, it was tooth and nail.
The game was knotted at 97-all after Nikola Jokic (24 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) scored with 3:22 to play. The final minutes were back-and-forth.
Taurean Prince gave the Nets the lead, but Barton’s 3-pointer left Brooklyn in a 100-99 hole with 1:32 left.
The Nets forced a miss by Jamal Murray (21 points) and a shot-clock violation to get the ball back. Dinwiddie got to the rim for a go-ahead finger roll with 42 seconds left.
Jokic drove for a reverse layup leaving the Nets in a 102-101 hole with 30.5 seconds remaining. But just seven seconds later, Dinwiddie drove by Gary Harris and wriggled around Jerami Grant for a twisting layup. The Nets had retaken the lead, and this time they held it.
Dinwiddie extended his full 6-foot-6 frame to force Barton into an off-balance fadeaway miss. Prince corralled the rebound with 10.5 seconds left and his free throws four seconds later iced it.