After struggling recently to find answers at crunch time, the Nets overcame a nine-point deficit in the final five minutes to snap their seven-game losing streak with a 117-113 victory over the Heat on Friday night at Barclays Center. They ended their misery with a thrilling 17-4 finishing kick that mirrored the way opposing teams had been abusing them.
Trailing 69-57 at halftime, the Nets stepped up their physicality and their defense to hold the Heat to 20 third-quarter points and reach the final period tied at 89. The Heat opened the final stanza with a 14-5 surge, including six points each from Goran Dragic and James Johnson to take a 103-94 lead, and they still were up nine shortly after Caris LeVert came off the bench with little more than five minutes left.
Back-to-back threes by Spencer Dinwiddie and LeVert cut it to 109-106 with 3:38 to play. They finally put a nose in front at 112-111 when LeVert buried a right-wing three at the 1:09 mark.
“The game will reward you when you play with that kind of grit and passion and energy,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “That was maybe one of the highest-intensity games we’ve played all year.”
The Nets’ intensity was embodied by Joe Harris, who kept two possessions alive with offensive rebounds, the first one setting up LeVert’s first three-pointer in the closing run and the second with 25.9 seconds left to set up a baseline floater by Taurean Prince to extend the lead to 114-111.
“He led by his actions,” Atkinson said of Harris. “He was just flying in there. Joe’s a football player. He’s a tough dude who leads by example. He was a big part of that physicality, but it would be unfair to single him out. Collectively, we were a very aggressive team tonight.”
Following a Jimmy Butler layup, Harris was fouled with 9.6 seconds to go and made both for a 116-113 lead. Miami’s Duncan Robinson missed a corner three, Harris rebounded again and was fouled with 3.7 seconds showing. He made the second free throw to clinch the much-needed win.
“In terms of getting the monkey off our back, I mean, it feels really, really good,” Dinwiddie said.
Dinwiddie had 26 points and a career-high 14 assists to lead the Nets (17-20), Rodions Kurucs added a season-high 19 points, Prince had 17, and Jarrett Allen had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Butler topped the Heat (27-11) with 33 points, and Bam Adebayo had 22. But the Nets had a 23-10 advantage in second-chance points, and after committing 10 first-half turnovers, they had zero in the second half.
The Nets had lost eight of their previous nine games. They led in the fourth quarter of five of those losses and were facing a Heat team that came from seven points behind to win a three-point decision over the Nets at Barclays on Dec. 1.
But this time, LeVert was available to team with Dinwiddie at crunch time. Although he scored only 11 points and shot 4-for-15, LeVert was big when it mattered.
“I think I was like 1-for-7 (from three), so in my mind, the next seven are going in,” LeVert said. “It was good to see them go in, good to get the win.”
Dinwiddie echoed those thoughts on LeVert’s impact. “We’ve got the most confidence in him in the world,” Dinwiddie said. “That’s why we kept going back to him. Obviously, he showed it with the two shots he hit. That was huge for us, we needed that. It really kind of calmed the ship when he hit that really big step-back three. It was like, ‘OK, here we go.’ ”
Finally, a finishing kick.