When you think of the great guard tandems in the NBA, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors, James Harden and Chris Paul of the Rockets, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum of the Trail Blazers and John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Wizards leap instantly to mind. For one star-crossed game, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie of the Nets performed on that elite level.
Russell had his finest game as a Net with 38 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and one turnover, and Dinwiddie tied his career high of 31 points, including a go-ahead basket with 26 seconds left on Sunday at Barclays Center. But their 69-point effort went for naught when Jimmy Butler’s three in the final second gave the 76ers a 127-125 win.
Still, it was an eye-opening performance by Russell and Dinwiddie, who have worked well independently but now must build greater chemistry in the absence of injured Caris LeVert, who is out long-term because of a dislocated ankle.
Coach Kenny Atkinson made it clear he plans to stick with Russell as a starter and bring Dinwiddie off the bench.
“Spencer knows his role coming off the bench, and D’Angelo knows he’s the starter,” Atkinson said after Monday’s practice. “That defining of roles, we did it Day 1. I thought about trying them together and we just [decided], let’s define it early.
“There was a possibility it was going to be D’Angelo and Spencer starting. Caris’ explosion made it all work out . . . Spencer’s in a good place. He’s one of our top minute guys. He’s embraced his role. The guy’s playing great basketball and D’Angelo’s in a good place, playing really good basketball. How much we use them together is going to be a game-to-game thing. I see great synergy. They’re talking and they’re figuring out what we want to run, and it’s really good.”
Against the 76ers, Russell and Dinwiddie were on the court together for 15:12, including an 8:08 stretch leading to Dinwiddie’s go-ahead basket. During that time, the 76ers outscored the Nets 38-36, and Russell and Dinwiddie totaled 18 points.
“It’s definitely been a long time coming,” Dinwiddie said of their progress. “You see us getting more comfortable the more that we play together. I can’t promise we’re going to combine for 70 points every game. That would be a little ambitious. In terms of our roles together, it’s just meshing together and getting that time and being able to become more cohesive.”
Although the Nets suffered through a dry spell near the end, getting outscored 16-2, Atkinson said Russell made the right plays when the 76ers’ defense blitzed him to get the ball out of his hands. Shots just didn’t go down at that point, but most of the game, Russell killed the 76ers with mid-range jumpers that Atkinson usually doesn’t favor.
“It’s just the contested ones that we have an issue with sometimes,” Atkinson said. “But he’s like, ‘Coach, I want to be really good at that shot.’ I’m on board with that. But I also want him to embrace the three. He’s shooting 37 percent from the three. Last night, he mixed in some good attacks to the rim, but 11-for-15 from mid-range was pretty special.”
When Russell and Dinwiddie team up, it’s a problem for the defense because both can get to the rim almost whenever they like. “Teams don’t want to see players getting downhill and creating every possession,” Russell said. “I think we’re pretty efficient at it. We’ll keep developing the coach’s trust, and it will be a positive for us.”
“DLo and Dinwiddie” has a nice ring to it if they can make it a regular occurrence.