Symptoms of The Grind were everywhere at Barclays Center Tuesday night. They included poor shooting and tired legs, lapses small and big, and — for a while at least — the inability to pull ahead against the woeful Bulls, no matter how hard the Nets seemed to try.
But that’s just what it’s like when you’re on the second game of an away-and-home back-to-back and when your roster has been in various stages of injury. And that’s maybe doubly true when every game matters, and could mean the difference between achieving a long-deferred dream or an early end to a promising season.
Good teams learn to overcome symptoms of the grind, though, and slowly, the Nets are proving they’re one of those teams.
Spurred by electric second halves by D’Angelo Russell and Shabazz Napier, the Nets found a spark, gritting out a 122-117 win over the Bulls for their seventh victory in eight games. The Nets have won nine straight at home, 13 of their last 14 here, and have already matched last year's win total.
The Nets overcame a nine-point second half deficit, and though the Bulls were never fully out of it, the Nets took a lead midway through the third and never let go.
“Grinding it out, keeping our head above water,” Kenny Atkinson said. “Toward the All-Star break, everybody’s fatigued. They’re fatigued, we’re fatigued. We just found a way [and] it wasn’t pretty at all . . . You look back on the end of the season and say that was a big win, so we knew it was important.”
They managed to go up 71-67 on Napier’s left-wing three with 5:07 left in the third, and 75-70 on his jumper with a little more than three minutes to go.
The Bulls got to within 107-104 with about 2:54 left in the clock before Joe Harris (17 points) took over, hitting a three and a layup in the next minute. Down by five with 20 seconds left, Wayne Selden Jr. stepped out of bounds shooting a three that went in, turning the ball over and sealing it for the Nets.
“It’s experience,” Napier said of the Nets ability to hold on. “Being in those situations and sometimes being on the losing end of it, I think it teaches you . . . Games like this show us that we’re continuing to grow in the right way.”
Napier scored 17 of his 24 points in the second half. Russell scored a game-high 30 a day after being benched in the fourth quarter for a less-than-ideal effort.
The Nets are no strangers to adversity and if they’re going to do anything this season, they’re going to have to do it banged up and tired, and Atkinson seemed to say as much before the game. After, those words were prescient. This was the type of game the Nets of old would lose, but they’ve learned a new swagger, and that’s translated to “luck.”
“At the end of the game, a lot of times, you can get a feel for the confidence of the team,” Harris said. “You seem to have a little bit of luck when you have more confidence.
That doesn’t mean it was pretty. The Nets struggled mightily from three-point range and paid the price, not being able to get much scoring distance against one of the worst teams in the league. Shooting was cold for most of the game — they shot 27.6 percent in the first, and 22.2 percent from three-point range for the first three quarters — before Russell and Napier muscled the Nets out of their stupor.
Mismanagement by both teams kept it close in the first quarter, with the Nets gaining the slight edge, ending the period up 20-19, which carried them into the first minute of the second, taking a seven-point lead before the Bulls turned dominant.
The Nets shot a woeful 19-for-51, or 37.3 percent in the first half, and were outrebounded 30-21. Perhaps most damning, they were unable to capitalize on the Bulls 11 turnovers in that span, and went into the break down 54-50. Zach LaVine scored 13 of his 22 points in the second quarter.
The halftime reset did provide the Nets with some traction, though — or at least enough to catch up to a team that gave them ample opportunity to do so.
They took advantage. After all, that’s what good teams do, even on bad days