MIAMI — Nets coach Kenny Atkinson called his team’s loss to Miami last week in the first game after losing injured Caris LeVert their “poorest defensive effort of the season,” and implored his players to turn that around Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena. They responded by totally shutting down the Heat in the fourth quarter on their way to a 104-92 victory.
The Nets held the Heat to 4-for-19 shooting (21.1 percent) in the final period and allowed just one field goal over the final 6:36. In the first quarter, they held the Heat to 13 points, the fewest in any quarter by a Nets opponent this season. Although the Nets struggled on offense, they got into gear in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Heat, 30-15, with 11 of 22 (50 percent) shooting.
“I thought we just played great defense the whole game,” Atkinson said. “I know it wasn’t pretty, I know the offense didn’t look great, but I’m really proud of our guys. We challenged them to come with the defensive mentality, especially after giving up 127 to the Clippers [in a Saturday loss]. So, just fantastic. The 13 points the first quarter, and then the fourth quarter 15 points. That’s a heck of a job.”
D’Angelo Russell scored eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and added nine rebounds and six assists. The Nets (8-10) also got 16 points and seven assists from Spencer Dinwiddie and 13 points and 14 rebounds from Jarrett Allen. Hassan Whiteside topped the Heat (6-11) with 21 points and 23 rebounds, and Jason Richardson had 16 points but shot 6-for-20 shooting thanks to pressure from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
“Rondae was huge, putting him on Richardson kind of changed the game a little bit,” Atkinson said. “We got some athleticism, some length, some strength on him. I thought that was big.”
The game threatened to get away from the Nets when they trailed by seven near the end of the third period, but DeMarre Carroll led a rally by the second unit, scoring 10 points in a 21-6 run that gave the Nets an 88-80 fourth-quarter lead.
“I just felt like that was the time I knew I had to be aggressive, being a leader,” Carroll said. “That was my opportunity and I took advantage of it.”
The Heat cut that deficit to three points, but Russell entered the game and hit the “on” button of his offensive game, scoring four straight Nets baskets at the start of a 12-3 run that pushed their lead to 102-90 near the end.
“It was all rim attempts, all rim attacks,” Atkinson said of Russell. “I think that’s when he’s at his best. He did a fantastic job getting to the rim.”
Russell was hustling at both ends of the floor, and the energy he provided was just what the Nets needed to close out the game.
“I just try to look for those angles,” Russell said of his ability to score in the paint. “It was up and down the whole game. Each team got a lead, lost it. I just wanted to find that window to be aggressive and make a play.”
Russell also credited Hollis-Jefferson for the job he did holding Richardson to four second-half points and 1-for-6 shooting.
“You’ve got to know your niche at the end of the day,” Hollis-Jefferson said of his role. “I know I’m a really good defender. I can guard multiple positions.
“It was my stops, man, my stops just drove me and made me feel a different way. Being able to get those stops and being able to play possession after possession, even if we made a turnover or missed a shot, coming back down and getting a stop on defense was everything.”