The Nets began their eight-day All-Star break on Thursday, and it’s hard to imagine another team that needed it more. They have been battling injuries while fighting to hang on to all the midseason gains they made for a playoff run, and they were coming off a triple-overtime win in Cleveland that drained what was left of their store of energy.
Suffice to say the 30-29 Nets, who rank a surprising sixth in the Eastern Conference, are tired, but it’s a good kind of tired after avoiding a disaster at the hands of the 12-win Cavaliers. That victory was important; a loss would have been their sixth in seven games and sent them to the break with a losing record.
“It would have been tough with a loss,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Then you’re going into the All-Star break, ‘Man, we’re really on a dip here.’ So to kind of get this one back and steal it, so to speak, keeps our morale.
“Now we’ve got something to play for. We’re in a playoff race, and that’s exciting for the Nets and exciting for our fans.”
The Nets trailed the Cavs by as many as 12 points but tied it up at the end of three quarters. During the fourth quarter and three overtime sessions, there were 15 lead changes and 12 ties, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer by DeMarre Carroll at the end of the second OT.
Fighting as they did was a sign of the Nets’ determination to cling to their new identity as a playoff contender.
“It was ugly for us in the beginning,” said D’Angelo Russell, who struggled before taking over in the third overtime to shoot 6-for-6 and score 14 of his 36 points. “[The Cavs] play hard as hell. They’ve got guys over there that are capable. When you let a team like that hang around, you’re looking to be upset. So I think we battled and we came back to Earth and we made it happen.”
Now the Nets can rest and take a deep breath. Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe, who recently came back from long-term injuries and played more than 30 minutes each against the Cavs, can recover. Spencer Dinwiddie can keep healing from thumb surgery without missing games.
In short, the Nets can gather themselves for the final 23 games, a stretch that will include 18 meetings with teams that are in playoff position or have winning records plus a game against the Lakers and LeBron James.
“We’re all looking forward to having a break and then trying to do something special in the second half of the season,” Joe Harris said. “Everyone around here is excited, but it comes down to just trying to play quality basketball, play the right way. If we do that, you anticipate the results will follow.”