After the Nets’ opening loss in Boston, Jeremy Lin said he was inspired by the late-game defensive effort by youngsters Isaiah Whitehead and Chris McCullough that made a blowout loss close. Lin hoped the Nets could capture that same passion in their home opener Friday night at Barclays Center.
They did it in gritty fashion that had a sellout crowd of 17,732 roaring its approval. Down by seven entering the fourth quarter, the Nets dominated defensively and finally got some three-pointers to drop on their way to a 103-94 victory over the Indiana Pacers that gave rise to hope they can surpass last season’s 21-win total.
“We played with our heart tonight,” Lin said after a spectacular home debut in which he totaled 21 points, nine rebounds (seven in the fourth quarter) and nine assists. “You saw that from a lot of guys, Sean [Kilpatrick] and Justin Hamilton, Trevor Booker, Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson]. Then Brook [Lopez], we were able to establish him and get him going. A lot of guys played with their heart, and that’s what we need to do every night.”
The Nets came out clawing and scratching in the final period, forcing the Pacers into a cold stretch in which they missed eight of their first nine shots and committed a turnover. When Greivis Vasquez hit a three-pointer with 7:09 to play, they took an 83-81 lead.
The Nets’ run to open the fourth quarter extended to 22-6, ending with a pair of three-pointers by Kilpatrick for a 94-85 lead. The crowd was chanting “Defense! Defense!” when Hamilton obliged with a block at the rim against Myles Turner, and the place erupted when Lopez converted a layup at the other end for a 99-89 advantage with two minutes left.
“I think we just became the aggressor,” Lopez said. “We wanted to get this first one, get it under our belt, and the crowd gave so much for us. They just brought a lot of energy. In the fourth quarter, we gave up what — 15 points?”
Lopez, who scored only seven points in the opener, bounced back with 25 points, shooting 10-for-18. Kilpatrick was terrific off the bench with 18 points, shooting 7-for-11 and having a plus-25 rating. Trevor Booker added 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Paul George had 22 points for the Pacers, who shot only 37.8 percent from the field and 28.6 percent in the fourth quarter.
It was clear early that coaches and players had discussed ways to involve Lopez far more than in the opener. “It was just something we talked about after the Boston game,” Lopez said. “It’s a learning process. We are all new players, different varieties of games, personalities, and we are still adjusting to each other. But this is a great first night at home, and you can just see our progress.”
That was the most gratifying aspect of the initial win for first-year coach Kenny Atkinson, who spent a 1-5 preseason searching for the right combinations. Recalling what he told his team before the fourth quarter, the Northport native said, “We were down seven in the huddle, and . . . I said, ‘We’re going to make a run back at them.’ ”
When the final buzzer sounded, Lin grabbed the game ball and presented it to the coach who developed him with the Knicks back in the 2012 “Linsanity” craze. “There have been a lot of peaks and valleys, and me and Kenny shared a lot of that journey together,” Lin said. “For us to be able to do this together, it’s special.”