The Nets defeated the Hornets in a thrilling double overtime game, 134-132 in Brooklyn on Wednesday night. Here are some thoughts.
1. Rodions Kurucs defensive versatility
Prior to Wednesday’s game, in his press conference, Kenny Atkinson was asked about the defensive capabilities of his rookie small forward. “He’s out there because he can defend. We like his length, and we believe he can guard 1 through 4.” It was almost as if Atkinson had a crystal ball and saw how this game would unfold. Kurucs was instrumental in this game and he spent time guarding various positions on the floor.
He seems to have a preternatural ability to read passing lanes (Kurucs finished with 3 steals) and position himself in the right place to disrupt the man he is assigned to defend. Yes. There is that vaunted length. The 6’9″Latvian (though he seems slightly taller) possesses at least a seven-foot wingspan, and he’s a better athlete than you think. Put all that together and he’s already a decent defender. Give him more time and experience in the NBA and he could be one of the better two-way players from the 2018 draft class.
Down the stretch in this tightly contested game, he guarded Kemba Walker. One of the shiftiest and best isolation guards in the league. Kemba got the best of him a few times, as he should, but Kurucs more than held his own.
Following the game, Kenny was asked a few times about Kurucs’ play on the defensive end.
Kenny has a lot of confidence in his rookie but that doesn’t mean he isn’t nervous when Kurucs is matched up on an elite player like Kemba.
2. Kemba Walker’s inside-out dribble is devastating
The Hornets’ star guard finished with 35 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. He was lethal and extremely efficient. Shooting 50% overall and 44% from three. His ability to get separation with his crossover and his inside-out dribble is incredible to watch in person. He had several Nets defenders going one way, while he was going the other. When he creates space he can either rise up for a shot, or he can dish to an open teammate on the wing for a catch and shoot three, or a teammate cutting to the rim. Either way, it’s deadly for opponents.
This is Walker’s 7th season in the NBA and the 2X all-star has turned himself into one of the best point guards in the league. Following the game, Spencer Dinwiddie spoke about what makes Kemba such a tough cover.
3. Officiating down the stretch
There was some bizarre officiating down the stretch. Missed calls, phantom calls, inconsistent calls. It seemed like both sides had a gripe about some egregious error. But, that’s sports, right? One could argue, the Hornets got a more beneficial whistle. They made 30 trips to the free throw line, compared to only 18 by the Nets. But, if we take a look at attempted shots in the paint, the Hornets took 53 to only 45 by the Nets. That could explain the free throw discrepancy.
Fans of the Nets will say their team doesn’t get respect from the officials and Spencer Dinwiddie doesn’t get the respect a player of his caliber should. That may be true or it may not. But, if the Nets continue to play well and balanced between three-pointers and attacking the paint, the calls will work themselves out in the end.
4. D’Angelo Russell on the bench for the fourth quarter and both overtimes
DLo finished with 16 points and 4 assists in 27 minutes of action on Wednesday. He shot below 40% and was 2-9 from three. The most notable thing about his night was his absence from the floor during the 4th quarter and both overtimes. This was yet another close game where, for whatever reason, Kenny didn’t feel comfortable playing DLo.
There are games DLo plays down the stretch and games where he doesn’t. Kenny says it’s all matchup dependent and some of that is true. But, what also seems clear is that Kenny doesn’t trust that DLo will make the right decisions in crucial situations. He will never come out and say that and he can’t. Kenny has to back DLo and continue to show confidence in him publicly. But, how else should we look at Kenny’s willingness to play a 20-year-old rookie (Kurucs) 39 minutes and the “backup” point guard (Dinwiddie) over DLo? Time will tell, but for those that follow this team closely, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?
Kenny was asked postgame about not playing DLo down the stretch. Listen closely to what he’s saying.
5. Spencer Dinwiddie is playing like an all-star and sixth man of the year candidate
37 points and 11 assists. That was Dinwiddie’s stat line from Wednesday’s game. In his last 10 games, he is averaging 24.4 points per game and 6.6 assists on 40% shooting from three. These are excellent numbers for a sixth man. His per 36 averages are 22.3 and 6.5. Numbers clearly worthy of the sixth man of the year award.
With Caris LeVert being out and how Kenny decides to manage late-game situations, Dinwiddie is being given more opportunities to show how good a player he is and where he stacks up against the game’s elite. He isn’t in the class of the elite guards in the east (Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo and Kemba), but check out his numbers versus Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. Both were all-stars last year. If the Nets continue to play well and hover around that #8 seed, Dinwiddie would be a more than deserving all-star selection as well.