Spencer Dinwiddie became the latest domino to fall from the Nets’ lineup, thanks to torn ligaments in his right thumb, which will require surgery at some point. The Nets have proved they are deep enough to overcome injuries to top players, but with Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe still on the shelf for an undetermined time, they were forced to dig even deeper into their roster against the Knicks on Friday night at Barclays Center.
Coach Kenny Atkinson expressed confidence in his team’s improved depth before the game. That was backed up in dramatic fashion by a bench that produced four double-digit scorers, including rookie Theo Pinson, whose career-high 19 points and stellar defense helped lead the Nets to a 109-99 victory. It was the sixth straight win for the Nets (27-23), who are an NBA-best 19-5 in their past 24 games.
The Nets’ bench outscored the Knicks’ reserves 72-50, including 18 points by Shabazz Napier, 17 points and 16 rebounds by Ed Davis and 10 points and seven rebounds by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Starters D’Angelo Russell (12) and Joe Harris (10) also reached double figures.
The Nets gave up 37 points and allowed the Knicks to shoot 63.6 percent in the first quarter. They trailed by 11 in the second quarter when Atkinson inserted Pinson, who is on a two-way contract and has spent most of this season with the Long Island Nets in the G League.
“I shouldn’t say it was unexpected, but I didn’t originally have him in the rotation,” Atkinson said. “I thought we were struggling and threw him in there, and we didn’t want to take him out . . . It’s a sign of a good program when you can plug guys in that haven’t been playing or have been in the G League and they can produce at an NBA level. Theo is a great example of that and did a heck of a job.”
Pinson had 13 points in eight minutes in the second quarter and scored 10 points in a 16-4 run that gave the Nets a 56-55 lead. His defense was a major reason the Knicks scored once in 10 possessions in that span.
Describing his attitude when he joined Napier in the backcourt, he said, “Once we went down early, I was hoping I got the shot, and I tried to make the best of it. We were losing. We had to do something. We wanted to come in and make a spark. ’Bazz always helps me and tells me, ‘Just stay ready. You never know when your opportunity is coming.’ I just wanted to be as ready as I could.”
In the third quarter, Pinson was on the floor when the Nets began a 34-14 run that carried into the fourth quarter and blew the game open. Davis had 10 points and nine rebounds in that stretch. “Guys are ready,” he said. “Theo showed that tonight. He came in, and if it wasn’t for him in that first half, we’d probably lose this game.”
Before the game, the Nets confirmed reports of Dinwiddie’s torn ligaments and the need for surgery, but Atkinson revealed that he has been playing with the injury for at least two months during a season in which he has averaged 17.2 points and 5.0 assists and established himself as a strong candidate for the Sixth Man Award.
Dinwiddie, who was not available to the media, is in the process of undergoing further medical evaluation, but there has been no decision on when to have surgery. “I think it’s been bothering him,” Atkinson said. “That’s fair to say. He tweaked it and it hasn’t been 100 percent. I think he’s a tough guy.”