OKLAHOMA CITY — The Nets were looking heartbreak straight in the eye Sunday in Detroit after watching the last of a 15-point lead disappear when Andre Drummond hit a short bank shot with 4.7 seconds left to give the Pistons a one-point lead. When Kenny Atkinson called timeout to set up a final shot, there was little question he would put the ball in Spencer Dinwiddie’s hands.
“There’s a trust there,” Atkinson said. “It’s also what kind of game you’re having. He was feeling pretty good, made a ton of shots. Listen, 6-6 and the speed he has, getting to his right hand in an open side. I like that.”
Dinwiddie took the inbounds pass, came off a screen trailed by Pistons point guard Ish Smith, pump-faked to get Smith in the air and then had the strength to stay aloft and get the winning shot over charging Pistons center Andre Drummond for a 101-100 Nets win.
“Heck of a shot,” Atkinson said. “I think Spencer is elite when he uses that athleticism to get in the paint and cause havoc.”
That moment was just the latest example of how far Dinwiddie has come since beginning last season in the NBA G League with the Windy City Bulls. Injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell thrust him into the starting point guard job for the Nets this season, and he has become their unquestioned go-to guy.
Dinwiddie is tied with Portland’s C.J. McCollum for first in the NBA with six made shots in the final minute to tie the score or give his team the lead. Dinwiddie and Dallas forward Harrison Barnes are tops in the NBA with three makes in the final 15 seconds to win. In the Nets’ past two wins, Dinwiddie scored eight of the Nets’ final 12 points against the Heat and had 11 fourth-quarter points against the Pistons, including the winner.
If he’s needed at the end against the Thunder on Tuesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Dinwiddie’s ready. All that from a player Atkinson said was “timid and lacked confidence” when the Nets first signed him early last season. What changed?
“It’s situational confidence,” Dinwiddie said. “If you have a certain role on a team, you try to fill that role to the best of your abilities. I’m going to go out there and try to be Kobe. But at the same time, if you unleash the reins and be like, ‘We need you to do XYZ. We need you to make these plays,’ then I’m going to try to do that.
“It was less a personal thing and more me finding my way in the league. I’ve always had personal confidence, but it’s being in a situation where they said, ‘Hey, if you shoot the game-winner and miss, shoot it again.’ Being in that situation helps the evolution.”
No one could have predicted this role for Dinwiddie when training camp began, but he was prepared to step up. “You don’t just walk in Day 1, and they’re like, ‘Hey, you’re taking all the big shots now,’ ” Dinwiddie said. “You have to work hard and build that rapport with the coaches and try to deliver.”