BROOKLYN, N.Y. — On Star Wars Night, the force was apparently with the Brooklyn Nets, as they played some of the finest basketball of the season (for the first three quarters, anyway).
Behind a consistent effort, the Nets (6-15) defeated the Denver Nuggets (8-14), 116-111, Thursday night at Barclays Center. The Nets controlled the game from the start, a wire-to-wire victory that included six different players scoring in double figures. (They played great the first three quarter, but nearly lost the game in the fourth quarter.)
They started the game on an 11-0 run and never looked back (although they made it closer than it needed to be).
The Nets had lost three straight games and 10 of the last 11 heading into Thursday. Still, they’ve won the last six games contests against Denver. (Even if the win at one point seemed at risk)
The Nets led 36-23 after the first quarter, one of their most impressive showings of the season for a few reasons. First off, they only took three 3-pointers and still scored 36 points. Then, they controlled the paint with 26 points behind 19 combined points from Brook Lopez and Trevor Booker. Lastly, their defense led to good offense, forcing six turnovers in which they turned into 13 fast break points.
Everything was looking good for Brooklyn in the first quarter AND half.
Pause here for news about the rookie…
Things got even better when Caris LeVert, a silver lining to the rebuild, checked in for the first time early in the second quarter. LeVert played some time at the four and showed his ability to also bring up the ball, rebound and most importantly: defend. His length gave Denver problems, as he grabbed 3 steals in his first five minutes of action. He also grabbed four rebounds in nine total minutes. It was the most steals ever for a Nets rookie in his debut game.
“The coaches told me to bring some energy on the defensive side of the ball and try to get in the passing lanes a bit, so that what I tried to do,” LeVert said after the game.
We now return to the game recap…
Meanwhile, the Nets held a season-high 16-point lead at the break. And yet, the million-dollar question: would it be sustainable?
…. YES it was (for a while).
The Nets went absolutely berserk in the third quarter, extending their largest of the night AND season to 29. At that point, Nuggets coach Mike Malone had enough, started screaming at the refs and was ejected. It all happened very fast. This was no slo-mo Doc Rivers ejection. It was bang and bang and gone.
That was the spark that Denver needed.
Following his ejection, Denver went on a 35-17 run and cut Brooklyn’s 23-point lead down to five early in the fourth. The thought: here we go again.
It got as close as two point with 16 seconds left. The Nuggets held a 30-15 run in the fourth quarter and were on a 49-28 run since Mike Malone was ejected. It just simply shouldn’t have gotten to this.
Down three with 13.8 seconds left, the Nuggets turned the ball over on the inbounds pass and Bojan Bogdanovic, aka Big Shot Bojan, sealed the deal at the line. All of Nets nation sighed in relief. Finally.
Brook Lopez scored 10 if his 24 points in the third quarter, propelling Brooklyn to a 28-point quarter. This is a step in the right direction for the Nets, who have won only three third quarters this season.
In response to Brook’s rally (or Chewbacca) cry, the starters had a very good night. Sean Kilpatrick scored 22 points (+13), Bojan Bogdanovic 19 (+14), Isaiah Whitehead 14 and Trevor Booker with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Joe Harris also chipped in 16 points off the bench.
As a whole, they shot 48 percent and nailed 9-of-26 3-pointers. They held Denver to 40 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers. Denver, however, out-rebounded the Nets 58-42.
Wilson Chandler led the Nuggets with 27 points and 15 rebounds off the bench.
“Look at the positive, “Kenny Atkinson explained afterwards. “I think we took a punch, two punches, maybe five punches and we got off the floor and finished it out.”
ISAIAH WHITEHEAD CAREER NIGHT
Prior to the game, Kenny Atkinson discussed how the one and only good thing about injuries is that it leads to opportunity for other guys. One of those guys is Isaiah Whitehead, who was thrown into the water before he knew how to swim this season. As a second round pick, expectations weren’t too high from the start.
However, as the season has grown older, Whitehead has matured. The former Pirate finished Thursday with a career-high for points (14) and steals (4). Perhaps the rookie is starting to get more comfortable with his role.
At one point in the third, Atkinson fielded the Nets youngest lineup in a long, long time, a small-ball group with Whitehead (21) at the point, Bogdanovic (27) at shooting guard, Hollis-Jefferson (21) at the small forward, LeVert (22) at power forward and Bennett (23) at center.
“That was the future.” Atkinson said after the game of the lineup that averaged 22.8 years old.
The Nets will face the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.
FOR POST-GAME AUDIO, CLICK HERE