CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There have been times when the shorthanded Nets have struggled so much to score with the second unit on the floor that it was painful to watch. But coach Kenny Atkinson has maintained his faith in that unit’s defensive prowess, and in Friday night’s 111-104 victory over the Hornets at Spectrum Center, the Nets turned that defense into offense with a game-breaking 14-0 run, holding Charlotte scoreless for more than five minutes in the final quarter.
For three quarters, there wasn’t much to separate the teams, but starting with the final two points of the third period, the Nets went on their clinching run with mostly bench players on the floor to take a 98-84 lead.
They held the Hornets scoreless until Devonte’ Graham hit a jumper at the 6:31 mark to snap a streak in which the Hornets missed all eight shots they took and committed four turnovers. They never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“Just that second unit, I thought was fantastic,” Atkinson said. “It started with Shump [Iman Shumpert], and then David Nwaba, and DeAndre Jordan was incredible tonight. They really picked it up and got our energy going there. It really turned the game, and I thought Shump was key there.”
Shumpert had four steals. Jordan had 16 points and 13 rebounds and Nwaba scored 13.
The Nets (12-10) are 5-1 in their past six road games. They are 8-3 without injured Kyrie Irving and, perhaps not coincidentally, 8-3 since Shumpert joined the second unit.
“It wasn’t just me,” he said of the game-breaking run. “They shuffled their lineup, a matchup switch, and I ended up guarding a guard and it gave me more opportunities. D.J. switched up the coverage on his own, coming up to play more on the ball screen, trying to be more alive. He got real talkative. When I feel like I’ve got all that help behind me, it makes me more aggressive. I was able to force a couple. If you go back and look, a lot of those I ended up getting the steal, but somebody else deflected it.”
Joe Harris topped six Nets in double figures with 22 points, including a 6-for-8 effort from three-point range. Taurean Prince had 16 points, Jarrett Allen had 14 points and 10 rebounds in his seventh straight double-double, and Spencer Dinwiddie totaled 13 points and 12 of the Nets’ 35 assists.
Graham led the Hornets (9-15) with 29 points and shot 6-for-11 from three-point range. Terry Rozier had 24 points, going 5-for-7 from beyond the arc.
The teams were evenly matched in the first half. The Hornets shot 9-for-18 from three-point range but couldn’t break away from the Nets, who were even more prolific from outside the arc, going 11-for-22 to trail by 57-55 at halftime.
Midway through the third period, the Nets finally gained some traction on offense, cobbling together an 18-5 run that gave them their biggest lead to that point at 75-66. But Graham heated up to make a trio of threes plus three foul shots during an 18-9 Hornets run that tied the score at 84 with 27 seconds left in the third quarter.
But that’s where their offense withered under defensive pressure from the Nets’ backups until the starters returned and Harris sank a three to cap the 14-0 run.
Describing the lift the second unit provided, Harris said, “They did an unbelievable job, and it started on the defensive end. From Shump, from Theo [Pinson], those guys were into ballhandlers. Garrett [Temple, a starter] was out there with them, David Nwaba, DeAndre. It was an unbelievable defensive crew. You look across the board, and all those guys can guard multiple positions, and they bring a lot of activity and energy on the defensive end.”