After losing four of their previous five games while burdened with injuries that led to a terrible shooting slump, the Nets broke out in a big way with a phenomenal 19-for-34 performance from three-point range that was keyed by a 27-point, 11-assist game from All-Star D’Angelo Russell to lead them to a 135-130 victory over the Nuggets Wednesday night at Barclays Center. The victory was the 29th of the season for the Nets, surpassing their total for all of last season.
After trailing by 14 points in the first quarter, the Nets led by 21 entering the fourth quarter, a remarkable 35-point swing. Denver outscored them at 43-27 in the fourth quarter and got as close as four points with only four seconds left, but the Nets held on for the slump-busting win. Part of the reason for the turnaround was the return from injury of Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe, and part of it was great ball movement that led to a season-high 36 assists, including a 10-point and 11-assist game by Shabazz Napier off the bench.
“We broke out of our shooting slump,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We really shot the heck out of the ball. We had 36 assists, a season-high. We were preaching it. I thought we really did a great job of moving the ball. That was the key.”
In their previous two losses, the Nets (29-27) had just three scorers in double digits, but Russell had plenty of support as DeMarre Carroll totaled 18 points, 10 rebounds and tied his career-high with six assists, Joe Harris added 17, Treveon Graham had 16, and Jarrett Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson each chipped in 15.
As good as the Nuggets (37-17) have been this season, they were swept by the Nets. The Nuggets still managed to dominate in the paint at 66-50 as Nikola Jokic had 25 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, and Mason Plumlee scored 24 points.
But coach Mike Malone benched his starting unit in the third quarter when Russell hit a trio of three-pointers in 17-8 run that gave the Nets a 91-70 lead. Then Napier was running the show at the end of the period when the Nets had a 13-3 run to retain that 21-point lead going to the final period.
“To be honest, we got our guys coming back” Russell said of the reason for the turnaround. “Just to get our guys back in one at a time and keep that groove going, I think it’s really special.
The Nuggets were trapping Russell to get the ball out of his hands, but Napier and Carroll kept it humming. Napier was a revelation coming off a tough game in a loss to Milwaukee Monday night.
When someone noted that he only took four field goal attempts but still wound up with his first career double-double, Napier smiled and said, “Did you watch last game? I was 0-for-10. I was frustrated with myself. After the game, I stayed longer and shot after the game. Today, I felt it was better for me to get guys involved and be able to knock down a shot once it got to me.”
Crabbe played just over 13 minutes in his first game back from a 26-game absence, but he hit his first three-point attempt, had five points and just his presence helped spread the floor for his teammates.
Asked about the importance of the Nets stopping their skid against the second-best team in the tough Western Conference, Crabbe said, “We know we can compete with any team. I think we’re changing that perception about us. ‘Oh, we’re playing the Nets tonight.’ I think everybody has an idea that we mean business. We never stop. It was a total team effort tonight. We just keep it rolling.”