The terms “Nets” and “winning streak” haven’t kept much company lately. They are now.
The Nets defeated the Hawks, 116-104, on Sunday afternoon before 13,917 at Barclays Center and now have a two-game winning streak. They needed to play 71 games of an 82-game schedule last season before winning back-to-back games. At 2-1, the Nets are over the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 3, 2014, when they started their last playoff season 2-1.
After the Nets frittered away all of a 16-point third-quarter lead, Allen Crabbe snapped a tie at 99 by draining a three-pointer off a feed from D’Angelo Russell with 4:37 to play for a lead they would not relinquish.
“I saw the defender, he was back a little bit,” Crabbe said. “At first I was kind of hesitant — I didn’t think I was going to shoot it — and then I was like, ‘Why not shoot it? It’s not like they’re going to get mad at me.’ So I just shot it, man. I saw it go in. [Then] I got another one. Things happen.”
Russell found him for another three-pointer and a 106-99 lead 50 seconds later. Russell made shots on three of the Nets’ last four possessions to salt the win away.
“Teams make runs. Teams come back. We handled adversity the right way,” said Russell, who finished with 16 points and 10 assists.
Crabbe came off the bench to score 20 points, including four three-pointers. DeMarre Carroll had 17 points, Caris LeVert 16 and Trevor Booker 14 for the Nets. Marco Belinelli’s 19 points led Atlanta (1-2).
Crabbe scored his 20 points in 25 minutes. His role in the win was big and his role with the team could grow even bigger.
Crabbe missed a stretch in the preseason with an ankle injury and Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said “his minutes aren’t at the peak where I think they will go.” Optimally for the Nets, he hopes Crabbe will play more than 30 minutes per game.
“I got them going. Just to get a little confidence,” Crabbe said. “The basket looks bigger and bigger after each one I make. Just playing with confidence, I think that’s going to be my biggest thing.”
Another factor in the victory was improved defense after the Nets allowed a frightening 261 points in the first two games. They held Atlanta to 34-percent shooting, and on the Hawks’ last 10 possessions, they got three baskets and a free throw. The defense was far from perfect, though, with the Hawks getting 33 points on free throws.
“Our habits are improving. Our attention to detail is improving,” Atkinson said. “We still have a long way to go. We put them on the free-throw line . . . just giving away free points. We have to be more disciplined, but I do see improvement.”
Russell was asked about being on a team above water for the first time in three years and the momentum the Nets have heading to Tuesday in Orlando.
“I don’t want to get too high on anything. It’s too early to do that,” he replied. “Teams can change up in every type of way. [We’re] just going to keep doing what we’re doing every day, bringing that intensity throughout every game and playing together.”