The Nets continue to show fight on the defensive end of the court this season and Sunday’s hard-nosed 105-102 victory against the Denver Nuggets was just another example of their grit.
The last time these two teams faced off, the Nets (13-10) not only blew a 16 point lead, but they also lost star point guard Kyrie Irving to a shoulder injury, which has kept him out of the last 12 games.
Since losing Irving on Nov. 14, they have had an impressive 9-3 run that has been sparked by their defense and on Sunday no different.
This growth on the defensive end has become more necessary than ever with both Irving and Caris LeVert, who had surgery to repair ligament damage in his thumb, out of the lineup. With two of their primary scorers out, it has become increasingly difficult for Brooklyn to find offense, and while Spencer Dinwiddie has carried the scoring load, it isn’t enough of a haul for this team to remain afloat until the return of Irving and LeVert.
Still though, they remain in the playoff mix in the early stages of the season, and against the Nuggets (14-7) they remained a difficult team to face. Not to mention there was some late game heroics by Dinwiddie.
With 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Dinwiddie made a go-ahead layup to put the Nets up 101-100. Nuggets star center, Nikola Jokic answered back with a go-ahead basket of his own putting the Nuggets up 102-100.
After a Nets timeout, Dinwiddie answered back giving the 103-102 lead with 13.6 seconds left, then on the other end of the floor, forced Will Barton into a miss killing any chance the Nuggets had to take the game into overtime.
“Big stops at the end. Big stops. With some guys being out, beating an elite team in this league—you say well our schedule hasn’t been the hardest in the world—but this is a darn good team,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It’s rare that you get too excited about a win, but this one gets you excited that we can compete with the best teams in the league even with a few guys out.”
The Nets are far from Elite, but with a shorthanded team playing as well as they have, it makes you wonder how dangerous they can become at full strength-this season and next.
“You find an identity by having your backs against the wall,” Spencer Dinwiddie said post-game. “It says the guys in this locker room not only believe, but know that we can compete at a high level, coaching staff knows that. As long as we play defense, as long as we hold people to around 100 points, we feel like we can score enough to win and that can be the hallmark of this group, defense and scrappiness.”
With no return date for either Irving or LeVert, the Nets have to continue to play with this grit and grind. The harder they play on the defensive end, the harder the better they will be once they get their scorers back.
“I think it’s a collective effort,” Joe Harris said of the team’s improvement on defense since their last game against the Nuggets. “The communication has been great. It’s one of those things where the chemistry, continuity, guys are really gelling, and you can see it on the defensive end. We’re moving in unison. We’re executing the game plan. A lot of good defensive teams, the reason for that is communication.”
It’s going well for the Nets right now, and when you sit back and watch them play—tough schedule or not—you’ll realize this is a darn good team too.