LOS ANGELES — Interim Nets coach Jacque Vaughn could not have asked for a better start after replacing Kenny Atkinson on Saturday and winning his first two games. The Nets gave him an inspired effort as Spencer Dinwiddie hit what turned out to be the winning basket in an improbable 104-102 victory over the Western Conference-leading Lakers in his hometown Tuesday night at Staples Center.
The Nets only scored 17 fourth-quarter points, but they played tough defense, holding the Lakers to just 44 second-half points. After resting early in the fourth quarter, Dinwiddie entered and immediately fed Taurean Prince for a right-wing three that gave the Nets their biggest lead at 97-88 with 6:43 left.
The Nets led the entire fourth quarter until a three-pointer by Anthony Davis with 42.6 seconds left drew the Lakers into a tie at 102-all. Dinwiddie was on a bit of an emotional roller coaster after being called for two offensive fouls in the final 4:16 and had to be calmed down by teammate DeAndre Jordan at one point when he was protesting to the officials.
But when the Nets needed it most, Dinwiddie delivered an 18-foot jumper from the left side of the key for a 104-102 lead with 28.4 seconds left. LeBron James drove for a potential tying layup, but the ball spun off the rim, sparking a mad scramble that gave the Lakers the ball out of bounds with 5.1 seconds showing. James fed Davis for a wide-open three, but it bounced off the rim.
Speaking of his winning basket, Dinwiddie said, “Credit JV (Vaughn) for having confidence to draw the last play for me, especially after two offensive fouls. He could’ve gone another way.”
Dinwiddie led the Nets (30-34) with 23 points and seven assists, Caris LeVert added 22 points, seven rebounds and two steals, and reserves Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (13 points) and Chris Chiozza (11 points, five assists) provided a valuable lift off the bench. James topped the Lakers (49-14) with 29 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, and Davis added 26 points.
Since taking over the Nets, Vaughn has been stressing open lines of communication, and whether it resulted from a sense of responsibility for the upheaval within the organization or their determination to make the playoffs, the Nets responded with their third straight win.
“It was fun for that to be tested in a tight ballgame on the road,” Vaughn said. “How would we respond through some trials and adversity and through some good times? It was a good reflection of this open communication and accountability in the locker room amongst each other.”
Vaughn praised the composure Dinwiddie showed at the end in terms of getting his emotions under control. “Spencer got two fouls called against him, but he also made a clutch bucket for us,” Vaughn said. “I think D.J. did a great job for us being vocal in the huddle and calming guys down and making them realize we were in a good place on the road, and let’s take advantage of the situation.”
Before the game, Vaughn said he has tasked Dinwiddie with taking on more responsibility in terms of play-calling and being a floor general.
The Nets trailed the Lakers by 11 in the opening quarter and still were down by 10 when Dinwiddie scored five points in a 16-4 Nets run that got them back to a 46-44 lead. He had 16 first-half points despite often being covered by James.
In the third quarter, Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 11 points, including two three-pointers and a conventional three-point play, in a 17-5 run that gave the Nets an 86-78 lead near the end of the period.
“This was an extremely big win for us, especially against a team like that,” LeVert said. “It’s huge for our confidence.”