Brooklyn Nets' Rodions Kurucs Gets the Message, Helps Shoot Down Sixers
Atkinson rides with rookie down the stretch and Kurucs scores career-high 13
The voice messages are typically waiting for Rodions Kurucs after every Brooklyn Nets game.
It's the middle of the night in Latvia, but Vladimirs Kiselovs is watching. He's watching his grandson, whom he introduced to the game at five years old and then coached for the next eight years. He knew by that point there was a wider basketball world young Rodions was ready for, beyond their home town of Cesis.
So Kurucs went off to the country's capital, and then to Barcelona, and now Vladimirs Kiselovs gets up in the middle of the night to watch a basketball team from Brooklyn. And then to make a phone call.
The last one, going into the Nets' game in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, was about Kurucs' shooting stroke.
"He's talking about shooting because we were always working on the shot," said Kurucs. "Right position. Right wrist. Soft. So yeah, when after the game he records a message, always says 'that shot was a little too weak. You have to finish stronger with your wrist.' He's always correcting it. That's also sometimes helped me because before when I was younger I was always watching on the stands when he was in the gym and he was showing me what's wrong with my shot. So now he's always, after the game, sending me voice messages and showing support."
The 20-year-old rookie had missed his last 10 3-pointers over four games, but the one he made in the fourth quarter in Philadelphia was a big one. The Sixers had scored seven straight points to cut into a 12-point Brooklyn lead before Kurucs connected for the first of seven fourth-quarter points he would score in the 127-124 win on the way to a career-high 13 points with three steals.
"My grandfather actually said to me, you need to make one and then you'll just go," said Kurucs. "That happened. It gave me more energy and power."
Kurucs made his presence felt Wednesday night well before the 3-pointer. In the first quarter, he was part of a second-unit surge that helped the Nets close the quarter on a 15-4 run after being down by nine points. He scored five straight points with a three-point play off a spin move to tie the game at 27 and followed it with a nifty baseline cut to score off a D'Angelo Russell feed.
In the fourth quarter, Kurcus' 3-pointer was actually just the start of a surge in which he scored seven of Brooklyn's 13 points in a span of 3:16, with a driving dunk putting the Nets up 107-95 with 7:16 remaining.
"Rodi plays with so much energy," said Spencer Dinwiddie. "He makes winning plays. He gets steals. He blew up one of (JJ) Reddick's DHOs and got the breakaway, so that was big-time for us. He made a big-time drive when they cut it to five or six or something like that."
There was also a defensive impact, with Kurucs taking on Philadelphia's 6-10 point guard Ben Simmons in the fourth quarter. It's a job Nets coach Kenny Atkinson has given to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn's top one-on-one defender, to start each of the last two games against the Sixers.
Simmons decided to take Kurucs into the post, but the result was two quick turnovers for the Sixers.
"He played tough," said Kurucs. "He was provoking me all game when I was guarding him. I just knew he would post me. I know that I could steal these balls. I always steal these balls in the post. You can check the videos from Europe. I stole a lot of balls like that."
The 19-minute outing was the second-longest of the season for Kurucs, and a signal of his growing role in Brooklyn's rotation. He made an early impression at the start of the season with the Nets short on forwards, scoring 11 points against the Knicks in the home opener and 12 against the Pacers the next night.
Minutes became hard to come by once Hollis-Jefferson and then DeMarre Carroll returned. But Kurucs gave the Nets a charge against Cleveland 10 days ago and has been a steady part of the rotation for the last three games. His activity has been reflected partly in rebounding, an area where Atkinson knew the Nets needed help. Kurucs does everything at a hundred miles an hour, a high-wire act that's quickly endeared him to the fan base -- and the coach.
It's a show worth watching.
"You didn't know what was going to happen," said Atkinson. "It was fun for all of us. He threw one in the third row and then he made two huge tip-aways from Simmons. Simmons tried to post him. That's his length. He gives us length and activity. Again, he forced us to keep him in there."
"That means a lot," said Kurucs of the opportunity to play crucial minutes for Atkinson. "It means a lot to me because before I didn't have that coach who truly trusted in me. It means a lot to me because guys trust in me and coach trusts in me and they give me that energy to go on the court, to get out there every day and work out and work my --- off. That's all right. I'm just saying my thoughts because I've never had this kind of team and collective where you really want to come every day and work out there."