This Nets season is supposed to be about building around free-agent stars and taking a step toward the upper echelon of playoff contenders. But with Caris LeVert likely out for five weeks to recover from thumb surgery, Kyrie Irving listed as questionable with a right shoulder injury to face the Pacers Monday night at Barclays Center and Kevin Durant possibly out all season to recover from Achilles surgery, the Nets once again find themselves relying on developing young players.
On Saturday in Chicago with starters Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince and Garrett Temple all limited by foul trouble, the Nets overcame an 11-point deficit to pull out a 117-111 victory and close a 2-3 road trip on a positive note thanks to a solid 35-point effort by their bench. Theo Pinson often leads bench celebrations of good plays by the regulars, but he led the bench with 10 points, including 2-for-5 shooting from three-point range against the Bulls.
It was only the third appearance of the season for Pinson, but he had to step up as backup point guard behind Dinwiddie. Although he had a 19-point game in a win over the Knicks last season, Pinson spent most of his time with the Long Island Nets in the G League, averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists.
“My teammates give me the confidence to go out and play aggressive,” Pinson said. “They just told me to be myself. They saw what I did in training camp. Even carrying over from last year on Long Island, they wanted me to carry that over to here, just being aggressive, and I tried to do that tonight.”
Rookie Nic Claxton and second-year man Dzanan Musa played key roles, combining for seven straight Nets points at the end of the second half to shrink an 11-point deficit to six at halftime. When Temple, Prince and Dinwiddie each picked up their fourth fouls in the first five minutes of the third period, the bench stepped up again. Down eight in the third period, the Nets put together a 25-14 run extending into the fourth period to take an 86-83 lead before Dinwiddie returned to score 20 points in the final 8:01 of the game.
“I think this was a must-win game,” Pinson said. “We know in this league you’ve got to win the games you’re supposed to win. This game we stepped up and made plays…Once we made that (25-14) run, it gave the whole team confidence we could play solid and pull this win out.”
The box score said it all. Claxton had eight points on 4-for-6 shooting, Musa had seven rebounds and five assists to go with his five points and backup center DeAndre Jordan had seven points, seven rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots.
Coach Kenny Atkinson was especially pleased how his young players contributed. “I’ve got to keep reminding myself, let’s trust these guys, trust your development program, trust your young guys,” Atkinson said. “I’m not sure I’ve done a great job of that so far. I have to trust them because they’ve done the work, they know the program, they know what we’re doing. Trust them.”