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Nets rout Pistons, move into sixth place in Eastern Conference

Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie puts up a

Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie puts up a shot against Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin during the first half at Barclays Center on Monday, March 11, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Steal. Dunk. Steal. Dunk. Steal. Dunk.

It happened again and again and again. Rodions Kurucs, the youngest starter on the floor Monday night at Barclays Center, had a dominant first half when his team needed it most as the Nets steamrolled the red-hot Detroit Pistons, 103-75.

The Nets (36-33) moved into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Pistons (34-32). It also sent a message to the rest of the league that this team is playoff-ready and that despite their youth and inexperience, the Nets are able to win a big game in dominant fashion.

The Nets held one of the more formidable offenses to 75 points and 27.8 percent shooting. They held Blake Griffin, who had given them fits in their two earlier meetings, to 10 points and 1-for-10 shooting.

“Everything kind of aligned tonight,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I thought the game plan was good and the guys executed well, especially defensively .  .  .   We had more juice tonight.”

The Nets should have had problems down low, considering how undersized they are compared to Griffin and Andre Drummond. But you wouldn’t have known this from looking at the final stat sheet. The Nets outrebounded the Pistons 53-49 and scored more points in the paint en route to what some saw as a statement win.

“It’s huge,” said Jarrett Allen, who helped guard Griffin and Drummond. “It was a huge win tonight. It was another step from all our other games. We knew we had to bring a certain physicality against Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, so we had to turn it up a bit.”

The win not only gave the Nets a lead over the Pistons but gave them a tiebreaker advantage. The Nets won the season series 2-1.

The Pistons entered Barclays Center having won five straight, matching their longest winning streak of the season. More impressively, they had gone 13-3 since falling to 21-28 on Jan. 29.

The win was the Nets’ fourth straight and their first against a playoff-contending team since they beat San Antonio on Feb. 25. It also had to be a huge confidence-booster as the Nets head out on a two-week, seven-game trip.

Kurucs scored all of his 13 points in the first half, making all six of his first-half shots and finishing the game shooting 6-for-8.

“Great job,” D’Angelo Russell said of Kurucs. “He got the crowd involved and got us following his lead with his creativity and energy,”

Spencer Dinwiddie came off the bench to score 19 points. Allen Crabbe had 14 as seven Nets scored in double figures.

The Pistons’ scoring woes continued throughout the game as they finished shooting 23.5 percent from three-point range. Only two players, Griffin and Drummond, scored in double figures. Drummond had 13 points and 20 rebounds.

The Nets have exceeded everyone’s expectations this season. With basically a month left, they are 4 1⁄2 games ahead of the ninth-seeded Magic.

“It means everything,” Atkinson said about being in a playoff race after finishing with 28 wins last season. “I keep saying that we’re ahead of schedule. It wasn’t, if you talk about the plan and when the plan was, that wasn’t in the cards to be in this battle right now.

“This group surprised me, to be honest with you. They’ve played above expectations. So yeah, it’s a good feeling, but now it’s a nervous and an anxious feeling, because now we’ve got this new goal, this new thing with the playoffs.”

New York Sports