After an inept first-half offensive performance that coach Kenny Atkinson described as “historically bad,” the Nets were on the verge of a historically good comeback as they roared from 28 points behind the NBA champion Warriors to within four with just over two minutes to play Sunday at Barclays Center. As much of a scare as the Nets put into the Warriors, they couldn’t quite get over the hump for the win.
But maybe in the process of fighting back as they did, the Nets caught a glimpse of the team they can become if the follow the blueprint outlined by Atkinson. Describing the second-half difference, Allen Crabbe said, “Play freely. We didn’t play the score, we just played Nets basketball. We were looking for each other. We had 16 assists in the second half. We didn’t get into our sets. We just played basketball. We let the game come to us, but everybody was aggressive and made plays for each other.”
After the Warriors pushed their lead back to eight, back-to-back threes inside two minutes by Crabbe, who scored 25 points, made it a five-point game, and then Spencer Dinwiddie (21 points, eight assists) missed a three that would have cut it to two points. So close.
Atkinson said he had a sour taste at halftime after a first half that lacked spirit. Instead of showing video at halftime, he simply emphasized the need to compete and be aggressive.
“I was very happy to see our core fundamentals, our core values come back in that second half,” Atkinson said. “We competed, we played together. We had 16 assists in the second half. Those are the things we want to be about. It makes you feel better going into the next game and going forward.”
The next game is Wednesday in Cleveland against the team that lost to the Warriors in the Finals. The Nets already earned one upset win over the Cavaliers back on Oct. 25 at Barclays Center, so that should allay any misgivings they might have about their ability to beat LeBron James and Co.
“We need to be better from the start,” Dinwiddie said. “Never let great teams get a big lead. Obviously, it’s too much to come back from. We’re familiar with Cleveland. They’re a very talented team. They’ve been in the championship three years in a row. We need to try to duplicate what happened last time, start fast and hope to make it a great game.”
Now, the Nets must try to apply the lesson they learned against the Warriors. “If we play the way we did in the second half each and every game, we give ourselves a really good chance,” Crabbe said. “We played against the Warriors, and we did that.”