On the day after they learned that Jeremy Lin will miss the final 81 games with a season-ending ruptured right patella tendon suffered in the first game of the season, the revamped Nets again struggled with turnovers and defense. But they weathered a 41-point, 12-rebound performance by Magic star Nikola Vucevic and dug down to put together a fourth-quarter comeback that produced a 126-121 victory in the home opener Friday night at Barclays Center.
It had to be heartening that D’Angelo Russell, who assumes the starting point guard duties in Lin’s absence, played a key role, scoring 17 points, shooting 8-for-16, and totaling six assists. Of course, there was the matter of eight turnovers, but six straight Nets points by Russell on two creative drives to the rim and an acrobatic bank shot gave the Nets a 119-116 lead with 1:23 left.
“Gaining my teammates’ trust is what it is,” Russell said. “Today I turned the ball over when we needed a crucial play [in the fourth quarter]. I feel like every experience being in that position is going to gain my teammates’ trust.”
There was no “Win one for Jeremy” speech before the game, but the Nets recognized the importance of showing their resilience. “That’s our brother,” Russell said. “You don’t want to forget about him, but guys had to step up and they did. Our bench was amazing.”
When coach Kenny Atkinson says the Nets (1-1) have to do things by committee, he’s not kidding, and they must focus on cleaning up their defensive mistakes. Starters DeMarre Carroll (17 points, eight rebounds) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (17 points) came up big, but so did the Nets’ bench, outscoring the Magic’s) bench, 64-34.
Trevor Booker (17 points, 11 rebounds) had his second double-double in as many games, backup point guard Spencer Dinwiddie had 16 points, five assists and played tough defense, and first-round rookie center Jarrett Allen had nine points, two rebounds and a block in his Nets debut.
“It was a team effort,” Atkinson said. “The bench gave us that energy. Spencer was excellent, and Jarrett gave us a big boost defensively . . . [The bench] had a big impact, and yes, we did keep them out there longer than anticipated. They were really defending.”
Near the end, Terrence Ross hit a three that pulled the Magic within one, but Allen Crabbe and Booker each made a pair of free throws to preserve the win.
“We definitely wanted it, and it showed,” Booker said. “It was a big win for us, and I know [Lin] was watching.”