If the eighth-seeded Nets faced a must-win situation during the eight-game NBA restart, it was against the ninth-seeded Wizards for playoff position on Sunday afternoon at Disney World in Orlando. Go-to guys Caris LeVert and Joe Harris answered the bell in the fourth quarter, combining for 16 points in an 18-6 run that sent the Nets on their way to a 118-110 victory.
The win left the Nets (31-35) with a seven-game lead over the Wizards (24-42) for the final playoff berth. If the Nets finish more than four games ahead of the Wizards, they can avoid a play-in series. Their magic number to clinch a playoff berth over the final six games is any combination of four Nets wins or Wizards losses.
No doubt, the Nets passed a gut check. “I think Jamal [Crawford] was preaching it all game,” LeVert said of the 19-year veteran who was inactive but vocal on the bench. “He said, ‘This kind of proves we can take a punch.’ They were beating up on us, especially at the start of the game, even in the third quarter, the fourth quarter, we were down.
“We took a punch, we overcame adversity, and we won it in the last five minutes. That’s huge for a team when you win a game like that down the stretch by rebounding, getting stops and executing on offense. That’s all you can ask for.”
The Nets held a five-point lead early in the final period, but Thomas Bryant had four points in a 9-0 Wizards run to give them a 96-92 edge. Harris then connected on a pair of threes to ignite the 18-6 Nets surge that included 10 points by LeVert for a 110-102 lead with 2:23 left.
“Down the stretch, Caris and I obviously knew we had to be aggressive, so we put the ball in Caris’ hands,” said Harris, who banked in a three to open the period and was 3-for-3 from three-point range in the quarter and 6-for-7 from distance for the game. “He made a lot of plays for himself, but he also facilitated and was able to get downhill and create for other guys as well.”
LeVert led the Nets with 34 points and added seven rebounds, Harris totaled 27 points and seven rebounds, Jarrett Allen had 22 points and 15 rebounds, and Chris Chiozza provided a career-high 14 points along with six assists off the bench. The Wizards got 30 points and 13 rebounds from Bryant plus 22 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists from Troy Brown.
Neither team could get much separation in the third period, which ended with the Wizards holding a slim 85-83 lead. At that point, the Nets were shooting only 38.9% from the field, including just 7-for-28 from three. But the Nets’ core three of LeVert, Harris and Allen, all of whom played more than 36 minutes, came up big down the stretch.
“Those guys have been with us for the longest and really set the tone for us,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We talked about being very strategic leading up to this game and leading their minutes up to this point. So, they played more minutes than they have been, and they responded extremely well and led our group tonight.”
Down by four points with 7:52 left, the Nets’ key players sensed the urgency, especially LeVert, who scored 14 points in the final period. “We realized we really needed the win out there,” he said. “Guys who have been here — myself, JA and Joe — we kind of took it into our own hands and said we can’t lose this game. We just went in there and gave it everything we had.”