It was the kind of game Spencer Dinwiddie said he’d had enough of, thank you very much.
No more drama, no more high-wire finishes, Dinwiddie said after last week’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Dribbling out a 10-point cushion would be just fine.
Maybe next time.
For the fifth straight game, the Nets took everybody to the edge with another game decided by three points or less, this one a 114-113 classic that they dropped in overtime to the Toronto Raptors.
It was a thriller to watch, particularly in the frantic final minutes when the intensity went through the roof. If you were watching this one, you were a winner. But in the locker room, it wasn’t a mood for moral victories.
“These close losses, when they stack up, two, three, four, five in a row, they change the tenor of a season,” said Dinwiddie. “Because it completely shifts the narrative of how the Nets organization, Nets basketball is being played. Because if these close losses turn to wins, we’re close to .500 ball. We’re looking at the playoffs. There’s a different morale, a different vibe.”
Regardless of the results, something has changed in Brooklyn. Since a one-sided loss in New Orleans on December 27, the Nets have split their last six. The three losses – by a total of six points – came to the Celtics and Raptors, the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
After Monday night’s game, the Nets were ranked 17th in the NBA in defensive rating, right in the middle of the pack. But that number is boosted by what they’ve done over their last six – a defensive rating of 96.3 that’s No. 2 in the league while facing Toronto (No. 4 in offensive rating), Minnesota (No. 5) and two games against Boston (No. 14).
“That’s the real positive out of this recent stretch here is how well we’re defending against elite offensive teams,” said coach Kenny Atkinson. “I love how we’re competing defensively. I think we’re starting to figure out our lineups, starting to figure out our matchups when teams go small, when they go big. Who’s guarding whom. Tonight was another example of our guys being really gritty on the defensive end.”
They’ve done this with Jeremy Lin out since opening night and D’Angelo Russell since mid-November. Caris LeVert, who elevated his game in December, missed two games against Minnesota and Boston before returning against the Raptors. DeMarre Carroll, after spraining his knee on the final play against Boston Saturday night, was out against Toronto, along with Nik Stauskas.
And still they were there at the end.
It didn’t look likely early. The Raptors got off to a sizzling start, making 9 of their first 17 shots. They shot 34 for 84 – 40 percent – the rest of the way.
That would have been enough, if not for the latest chapter in the growing legend of Spencer Dinwiddie. The Nets are 15-25, but it’s painful to think of where they would be without Dinwiddie following the injuries to Lin and Russell. He’s been one of the NBA’s most efficient playmakers, leading the league in assist to turnover ratio. His eight assists to one turnover were right in form against the Raptors.
The scoring has been a little more streaky. But he’s been ferocious when he gets going, and hasn’t been shy about taking big shots.
It was 85-74 and closing in on eight minutes to go when Dinwiddie knocked down a 3-pointer for the first of the 21 points he would score in the fourth quarter and overtime. Two Quincy Acy threes kept the Nets alive. A Joe Harris three brought Brooklyn within two. Back down five, Dinwiddie again for three. Finally, Allen Crabbe finished a drive with 9.3 seconds to go to tie it at 107.
Dinwiddie opened up the overtime with a dunk, and his spin through the lane put the Nets up 113-111 with 42 seconds to go.
“We were down,” said Dinwiddie. “I was trying to make plays. I was fortunate enough to hit shots. Like I said, make or miss league.”
After DeRozan’s three-point play put the Raptors on top, the last one missed – a drive into traffic. Dinwiddie finished with a career-high 31 points in 41 minutes.
“It’s the hardest thing to do in professional sports, to close out a game,” said Atkinson. “Looked like in overtime we get to a four-point led, we had a couple opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of. And then they made plays. We have to make more plays. Make better decisions. We’ll study that and we’ll learn from it. It’s frustrating we’re not getting over that hump. I don’t think any of us are pleased, satisfied. It’s a feeling of frustration, but we’re going to learn from it and it’s going to eventually help us get over the hump.”