Injured Kyrie Irving missed his fifth straight game, but Spencer Dinwiddie’s 30-point effort led the resilient Nets to a 103-101 victory over the Knicks on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. The Nets improved to 4-1 without Irving, and it marked Dinwiddie’s career-best fifth straight game with at least 20 points.
“He’s a difference-maker right now,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “They were double-teaming him all night. I would have done the same thing . . . What he’s doing, he’s also doing on both ends. He’s doing it on the defensive end, too. He’s playing really good basketball.”
The Nets (8-8) got 18 points and 10 rebounds from center Jarrett Allen and 14 points and 11 rebounds from Taurean Prince. Despite playing good defense, the Nets allowed the Knicks (4-13) to shoot 51.4 percent from three-point range (18-for-35), including a 7-for-8 performance from Marcus Morris, who had 26 points.
In the first half, the Knicks did all they could to get the ball out of Dinwiddie’s hands, but he either split double-team defenders to get to the rim or draw fouls, or buried three-pointers. His 19 first-half points helped give the Nets a 52-46 lead.
Early in the season, Dinwiddie was struggling to find his role, but without Irving (shoulder impingement) and Caris LeVert (thumb surgery), he knows the Nets are depending on him now.
“The role just changes like an amoeba,” Dinwiddie said. “Sometimes it’s defense, sometimes it’s going to be scoring.
“My usage rate is probably through the roof right now because Kyrie and Caris are out. The monster [Kevin Durant] probably is going to be back next season. For now, my job is to do this, and then it will shift when they get back.”
The Nets saw their lead shrink to 98-97 with 1:20 remaining after a trio of three-pointers by the Knicks, but two foul shots by Joe Harris made it a four-point lead with 6.8 seconds remaining and the Brooklyn Brigade cheering section began chanting Dinwiddie’s name.
“He’s just a really talented player offensively who knows how to create contact and play with the referees,” Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina said. “He’s really smart getting to his arms, and he’s really good on touches going to the basket. So it was a challenge.”
Irving got off to a phenomenal start, averaging 28.5 points through his first 11 games, but the Nets were only 4-7 before he was sidelined. He also won’t play Monday at Cleveland or Wednesday at Boston.
Before facing the Knicks, Atkinson praised his team for how well it has adjusted without two of the Nets’ top three scorers, but he added of Irving, “We’re not nearly as good without him. That’s just a fact.”
Atkinson credited Dinwiddie’s familiarity with the Nets’ system for allowing him to step into the leadership role.
“I think it’s going to take time for Kyrie to completely understand what we’re doing on both sides of the ball,” Atkinson said. “[With] Spencer playing so well right now, when Kyrie comes back, what does that look like? Is Spencer [going] to start [with Irving]? It’s a good problem to have.”
That was news to Dinwiddie, who said he’s had no such conversation with Atkinson.
“I’m not the coach,” he said. “I don’t make those decisions. If that’s the new role, then that’s what I’ll do. I told you all I don’t care. I’ll start or come off the bench. If we’re winning at a championship-type level, I’ll be real happy. If we’re losing, I’m not going to be real happy starting or coming off the bench.”