LOS ANGELES — Just before the fourth quarter began with the Nets trailing the Kings by 25 points Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center, Kenny Atkinson cleared his bench, inserting Jared Dudley, Treveon Graham and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson along with starters D’Angelo Russell and Rodions Kurucs. It looked as if Atkinson was running up the white flag of surrender even though he was pairing his best defenders with his most creative scorer.
Dudley said Russell asked him in the huddle if the Nets still had a chance. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be perfect,’” Dudley recalled. “We weren’t perfect. I missed two layups, but one was wide-open. I fouled De’Aaron Fox and gave him free throws, DLo missed a couple of wide-open threes after we got steals.
“But the defensive activity by Rondae, Rodi, myself, T.G., I thought we got every rebound and then just sharing the ball and DLo went ‘Kobe’ out there.”
Russell was utterly brilliant, scoring 27 of his career-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and making plays with four of his 12 assists. He scored 16 straight points to get the Nets within one before Dudley hit a go-ahead three and then, with the game tied, Hollis-Jefferson made the winning layup in a 123-121 Nets victory.
Their comeback from a 28-point third-quarter deficit was the largest in Nets history, and they became only the fourth team in the NBA’s shot-clock era to overcome a 25-point fourth-quarter deficit. Russell’s 27 fourth-quarter points were the most points scored in a quarter by any player this season, and he had at least 30 points and 10 assists for the second straight game after never doing it previously.
Paying tribute to the bench guys, who sparked the turnaround, Russell said, “Those guys grind, they play defense, they make plays, they set good screens, they roll, they finish. When you’ve got guys of that caliber on our team that know their roles, they’re ready at all times.
“Coach kind of tested that tonight. He put those guys out there and they responded … We were limited at the end with a funky lineup, but it was a hell of a coaching play by coach.”
Dudley said he was setting high screens to free Russell to drive to the basket or find Hollis-Jefferson in the pick-and-roll. “You’re looking for him to make the play,” Dudley said. “He found me twice on two threes. You’ve got to give DLo credit offensively for just maturing and knowing when to pick and choose his spots.”
Once the Nets had pulled within 10 points of the Kings with nearly seven minutes left, Russell told his teammates they were not going to lose. “We started making tough shots and we started getting stops,” Russell said. “It was just piggybacking off each other. It was like a snowball effect, and they couldn’t really put out the snow … Toward crunch time we started to figure out what was working, and it was too late to stop us.”
As Atkinson said, the response from the Nets’ bench was “a beautiful story … We found a group that worked, and they kept at it. DLo was obviously in another stratosphere.”
Largest deficit faced by Nets against Sacramento
Fourth-quarter points for D’Angelo Russell
Deficit entering fourth quarter
Points scored in a row by Russell
Previous teams to overcome a 25-point fourth-quarter deficit in shot-clock era (beginning in 1954-55)
Record of teams trailing by 25 or more points entering the fourth quarter