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Rodions Kurucs provides critical Nets defense in crunch time

Nets' Rodions Kurucs, left, and Philadelphia 76ers' JJ

Nets' Rodions Kurucs, left, and Philadelphia 76ers' JJ Redick chase down a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, in Philadelphia. Brooklyn won 127-124. Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

PHILADELPHIA — Nets coach Kenny Atkinson lately has been spoon-feeding small doses of second-round rookie Rodions Kurucs into his rotation. But he threw caution to the wind and went the “full Rodi” when he stuck with the irrepressible 20-year-old Latvian at crunch time in the Nets’ 127-124 victory over the 76ers and was rewarded for it Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Kurucs had 13 points, including eight in a 13-6 run that pushed the Nets’ lead to 107-95 midway through the fourth quarter. Then, Kurucs committed a turnover, but followed by forcing two critical Sixers turnovers while guarding Ben Simmons with less than three minutes to play.

“You didn’t know what was going to happen,” Atkinson said with a smile. “It was fun for all of us. He threw one in the third row, and then he made two huge tip-aways from Simmons when Simmons tried to post him. He gives us length and activity. He forced us to keep him in there.”

Kurucs admitted it was tough covering Simmons, who was rookie of the year last season. “He was provoking me the whole time I was guarding him,” Kurucs said. “I just knew he would post up. He posted me, and I was like, ‘I can steal these balls.’ I always steal all these balls in the post. You can check videos from Europe. I scored a lot of goals like that.”

Kurucs had missed 10 straight three-pointers coming into the 76ers game, but he made the only one he shot Wednesday to trigger the 13-6 burst. “My grandfather said to me when I was talking to him before the game, ‘You need to make one and then you will just go on.’ And that happened,” said Kurucs, whose grandfather wakes in the wee hours in Latvia to watch his games.

Someone asked Kurucs if the NBA game is slowing down for him now, and he laughed. “No, it doesn’t slow down yet,” Kurucs said. “Guys always say, ‘Slow down, Rodi, don’t rush.’ I don’t know. I’m just going crazy. I’m sure it will slow down some day.”

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