The Nets’ progress is nowhere near as far along as the 76ers’ so-called “Process,” especially in terms of talent acquisition without the kind of high draft picks the Sixers had. But the Nets collection of second-chance lottery picks acquired in trades and former G Leaguers outplayed Philadelphia down the stretch for a 116-108 victory that snapped a four-game losing streak Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
Spencer Dinwiddie, who might be the centerpiece of the Nets’ development project, scored nine of his 27 points in the fourth quarter. D’Angelo Russell, in just his sixth game back from knee surgery played a key role with 22 points, and rookie center Jarrett Allen, making only his second NBA start, scored 16 points and had 12 rebounds while going against All-Star Joel Embiid, who topped the Sixers with 29 points and 14 rebounds.
Philadelphia (24-24) also got 24 points from Ben Simmons and 20 from JJ Redick. But the Nets (19-33) shot 50.6 percent from the field, including 40.6 percent from three-point range (13 of 32).
The resurgence of Russell after an absence of nearly 10 weeks had a huge impact on the Nets’ offense while playing his first back-to-back post-surgery.
“He really pushed to play,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I can’t tell you how many times he told us after the [Knicks game Tuesday night] that he’s feeling great. So, he really pushed to play and glad for us that he did play.”
Trailing by nine in the first quarter, Russell suddenly kicked into gear and found his rhythm, scoring 15 of the Nets’ next 24 points and dishing for a couple other baskets as they gained a 45-41 second-quarter lead. In the third quarter, the teams traded the lead seven times before Russell scored five points in 9-4 surge that helped the Nets take a 91-88 lead to the fourth quarter.
“You just want to put that pressure on teams, have guys keying in on you so you can make plays for others,” Russell said. “Coach puts the ball in our hands to make that happen for guys that can really shoot the ball.”
The Nets missed their first five shots of the final period, but Russell found Nik Stauskas with a cross-court pass that led to a three-pointer and triggered an 11-0 surge that gave the Nets a 102-92 lead and control. “Teammates give you that confidence, and you want them to trust you to make that play when they’re open,” Russell said.
Stauskas and Jahlil Okafor, former lottery picks who came from the Sixers in a Dec. 7 trade, both were on the floor in that stretch. Stauskas’ only basket gave the Nets the lead for good, and Okafor scored at the end of that run and had eight points on 4-for-5 shooting.
“If I said that win didn’t feel great, I would be lying,” Okafor said. “It was an awesome feeling to pull it out. Hell of a win. But that being said, I’m pulling for [the 76ers] and hope they make the playoffs.”
Stauskas echoed those sentiments, saying, “It’s always a good feeling being able to beat your former team. We were both excited to get out there and play against former teammates and former coaches.”
Russell totaled only 16:30 playing time and was removed with 8:50 left in favor of Dinwiddie, who once again displayed his growing sense of command at crunch time. “In the back of my mind, we do have to be careful about overplaying D’Angelo in the early games,” Atkinson said. “D’Angelo was playing great. In a normal situation, he would have stayed in. The idea was that we can get him back in later in the game, but luckily, we didn’t need him at the end.”