Erik Spoelstra called the Nets one of the top-two hard working teams in the NBA and his Heat saw it firsthand on Saturday night.
Miami was just one win away from securing a trip to the postseason, but Brooklyn stunned the hosts in an electric 110-109 victory at American Airlines Arena. This was a gritty win for the Nets that both Kenny Atkinson and his players can likely point to as a momentum-builder.
This was a game that the young Nets might have lost earlier in the season, yet the team’s resiliency paid off to secure their first overtime win of the season. Brooklyn had seven players in double-digit scoring, which was sparked by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s strong 20 point and 14 rebound performance. Goran Dragic and James Johnson were the Heat’s top scorers with 18 points apiece. The Nets secure the season series against the Heat and it's only the second time in their history that they've sealed series wins against both Florida teams in a season.
“This was a great growth game,” Atkinson told reporters after the game. “A lot of guys stepped up, a lot of guys made plays.”
He added, “When things got a little hairy, we kept our cool [and] kept our defensive discipline.”
The Nets return home to face the Pistons on Sunday night at Barclays Center.
Here’s Three Observations:
Fiery Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Hollis-Jefferson was a big reason why the Nets were able to get their biggest-ever win at Miami the last time these two teams met at the American Airlines Arena on Dec. 29. He was just as impactful on Saturday.
The third-year forward finished the game with 20 points and 14 rebounds and sparked the Nets’ aggressive defense with two steals. If DeMarre Carroll is the veteran leader of Brooklyn’s locker room, Hollis-Jefferson is the team’s emotional backbone. He often wears his emotions on his sleeves as shown with his technical after he was called for a debatable foul on James Richardson, but he’s also a big reason why the Nets have been in so many close games this year – he is relentless.
When the Nets lost their nine-point lead and the Heat took a 99-98 lead, Hollis-Jefferson refused to give up. He powered down the court and got an and-one chance, which he converted to give the Nets a two-point lead. Most of the talk about Hollis-Jefferson has been about his improvement on offense, but he’s also made plenty of strides in another area as well: Leadership.
Full Dinwiddie Mode
Spencer Dinwiddie’s favorite word this season has been opportunity and he certainly took of advantage of one on Saturday night.
D’Angelo Russell got off to a slow start, going 0-for-5 with two turnovers, and Kenny Atkinson went with his backup point guard for a spark. Dinwiddie responded, pouring in 12 points and 12 assists -- helping the Nets rally from a 22-11 hole in the first quarter to remain toe-to-toe with one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams. The game could potentially serve as a much-needed confidence boost for the fourth-year guard.
Dinwiddie’s play earlier this season was one of the biggest stories of the NBA season and he was rewarded with an invite to the Skills Challenge – which he won in stunning fashion. However, he’s struggled to replicate his play from before the All-Star break. Prior to the break, he was averaging 13.6 points and 6.7 assists, which slid to 9.6 ppg and 5.9 apg after it. Dinwiddie was coming off of a game in Orlando where he had just three points and zero assists, so this is a remarkable turnaround for him. The Nets need similar performances to secure wins.
“I felt like [with] D’Angelo, the other guys came in and played great,” Atkinson said. “Caris, Spencer, you just go with it as a coach – it was just a feel.”
It wasn’t the only change to the rotation on Saturday night. The coach brought Quincy Acy, who hadn’t played since March 21, back into the fold and the veteran immediately delivered, hitting back-to-back threes to cut the Heat’s lead to one in the second quarter. Acy finished with 13 points.
Bench and Aggressive Defense Sparks Result
The Nets average 5.7 steals per game this season, they had 11 on Saturday night. It was a pivotal part of their victory in Miami as the team was constantly looking to disrupt the passing lanes, which they had a fair amount of success in. Brooklyn forced 17 turnovers and converted them into 16 points.
The Nets’ bench was also a significant factor, ensuring that the team wouldn’t have another late-game meltdown. Caris LeVert poured in 19 points and seven assists while Joe Harris had 13 points. Brooklyn’s reserve unit outscored their counterparts 66-40.