What started as an early beatdown turned into a fight to the finish on Wednesday night, but the Brooklyn Nets prevailed in a 116-111 win over the Denver Nuggets at Barclays Center.
The Nets had a comfortable – and season-high – 29-point lead midway through the third quarter, but it became a nailbiting two-point game with 16.3 to play in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t until Bojan Bogdanovic hit a pair of clutch free throws with 12.7 seconds to play that the Nets finally delivered the knockout punch.
“We took a punch, two punches maybe five punches, but we got off the floor and finished it out,” coach Kenny Atkinson said.
Brook Lopez led the Nets with 24 points, scoring all of them in the first three quarters, as Brooklyn built up a 96-79 lead over the Nuggets. Isaiah Whitehead’s three-pointer with 5:56 to play in the third quarter gave the Nets a 92-63 lead, but the Nuggets played themselves back into the game. In the next 12 minutes, Denver went on a 32-8 run, with the Nets up 100-95 turning the corner for the home stretch.
At that point, the Nets got back to what made them successful through the first two-and-a-half quarters, driving the ball and getting to the line. The Nets went 12-of-14 from the stripe in the final 5:40 of the fourth quarter to hang onto the win. Sean Kilpatrick (22 points) hit all six of his free throws in the fourth, but Trevor Booker and Bogdanovic teamed up to hit the biggest ones, going 3-of-4 at the line after Wilson Chander (game-high 27 points, 15 rebounds) hit a three-pointer to make it 111-109.
“We played so well that like coach said, we deserved that game,” Kilpatrick said. “They played terrific, especially down the stretch being able to cut the lead down, but there was something in us that really said we had to sustain the lead. They threw a couple punches at us, but we were able to counter them with the fact that we started get more physical at the end.”
The Nets came out of the gate swinging on Wednesday, running up an 11-0 lead on the opening 2:39. They pressured the Nuggets into six first quarter turnovers and bullied them at their own game in the first half, outscoring Denver 42-20 in the paint and tying the NBA’s top rebounding team 23-23, en route to taking a 68-52 lead by the half.
Brooklyn didn’t let up to start the third quarter either, going on another 11-0 run out of the break to take a 79-63 lead. But complacency started to set in and the game plan started to change. Armed with a 29-point lead, the Nets got away from driving the ball, instead looking for shots on the perimeter. Denver took control of the post, outscoring the Nets 24-2 in second-chance points, and out-rebounded the Nets 35-19 in the second half.
“We got stagnant,” Atkinson said. “We didn’t see some post ups and I thought we should have seen on the switch and settled for some ill-advised shots, quite honestly. When you’re up 29, you can settle into some of those shots and we just need to avoid that.”
Pregame, Atkinson said development comes out of opportunity and for a young Nets team – one that got younger with Caris LeVert’s debut in the second quarter – Wednesday was an opportunity to learn that no lead is safe and that it has to bear down for 48 minutes.
NOTES: Six Nets – Lopez (24), Kilpatrick (22), Bogdanovic (19), Harris (16), Booker (15) and Whitehead (14) scored double-digits… Whitehead had a career-high 14 points and 4 steals… Caris LeVert made his NBA debut, with three steals and four rebounds in 9:07