BOSTON — It was some kind of Monday for Spencer Dinwiddie.
In the afternoon, Dinwiddie was announced as the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week for his work in leading the Nets to a 3-1 record while averaging 25.3 points and 6.8 assists. He capped the day with a dagger, a game-winning jumper with 1.6 seconds to go that gave the Nets their fourth straight win, 108-106 over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Cedi (Osman) was kind of shading the right, so I take a couple dribbles left,” said Dinwiddie, breaking down the final play. “When he tried to recover, just crossed over and from there it was just getting to a spot and pulling up. It wasn’t about driving to the rim or anything like that because it wasn’t a situation where I needed a rim attempt, needed a three or anything. I just needed a solid look, hopefully a quick amount of time, get to a place where I felt really comfortable. So analytics are off at that point. I just pulled up. I’m 6-6 too, so it’s not like I’m short.”
“They took away our first option,” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson, “and then he crossed back over the other way and just made, quite honestly, not a great play, a great individual play by him.”
Over Brooklyn’s last 10 games, beginning with his season-high 34 points in Portland, Dinwiddie is averaging 23.8 points and 5.8 assists, scoring at least 20 points eight times and 30 points twice. The last six of those games have been starts with Kyrie Irving sidelined.
“I do think the reward is doing it consistently, and he’s starting to prove it,” said Atkinson before Monday night’s game. “It’s funny. I called him in mid-afternoon to congratulate him. He was sleeping. He was taking his nap. Spencer is the ultimate…he’s kind of a LeBron, where you’re so obsessed with taking care of your body. He’s obsessed with it. I’m happy for him. All the hard work he puts in, all the sacrifices he makes. And of course, he’s got enormous talent. So, all those things together, you get a reward like that, and I could see him just keep doing this. I think that’s where he is at this point in his career.”
FEWER FREE THROWS, PLENTY OF FINISHES
The Nets entered Monday night’s game against the Cavaliers leading the league in free throw attempts over their last five games, a run that pushed them up to second in the league overall. And then they didn’t take a free throw in the first half. They ended up 9-of-11 from the line.
“Great job driving the ball,” said Kenny Atkinson. “Spencer was at the rim all night. Wish he would have had a few more free throws, but that’s how it goes. Our process was right. We got rewarded for sticking with our principles.”
The Cavaliers commit the fewest fouls in the league and allow the fewest opponent free throws, so that was a factor. Bottom line was the Nets kept doing what they’ve been doing, getting opportunities at the rim from Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris. They traded free throws for finishes, scoring 60 points in the paint, even higher than their average of 51.5 points in the paint per game that is ranked fifth in the NBA.
“Keep driving it. Keep driving it. I felt like they don’t have the best rim protecting quite honestly,” said Atkinson. “That was a scouting thing. We wanted to get to the rim. We did it. We did a heck of a job. It’s unfortunate. I wish we went to the free throw line more, but that happens in games, especially on the road. But like I said, our process was right. A lot of those offensive rebounds, we missed the layup and then JA would come in and clean it up and get one of his dunks there.”
MAKE IT FOUR STRAIGHT
With Monday’s win, the Nets continued to thrive in a shorthanded situation, winning their fourth straight game and fifth in the last six.
“It’s how connected these guys are,” said Kenny Atkinson. “It does help that it’s guys that have been here for a long time. I think that continuity helps. (Garrett Temple) is like the new guy in that group, (Taurean Prince) too. But we’ve got guys that have been here that understand what we’re doing. That helps a lot.”
“It’s the defense, man,” said Spencer Dinwiddie. “At the end of the day, that’s all it comes down to. And that should be a Nets theme regardless of who’s playing. This is not something that’s like, oh this group or that group or he’s in or he’s not in. If we as a unit can hold a team to around 100 points then we have a chance winning that game. Obviously when we have Kyrie and them the chances then are a lot higher.”
Over these last six games the Nets are fourth in the NBA with a defensive rating of 103.8. It’s helped them navigate potentially difficult scenario with both Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert, the opening night starting backcourt, sidelined. They’re 9-8 going into the home-and-home with the Boston Celtics that sandwiches Thanksgiving.
“Really, every win counts,” said Dinwiddie. “Every win matters. As you saw last year we were 8-18 and had to climb out of that hole and really band together and try to do some special things. Clearly we’re in a much better position than we were at this time last year. So if we can have another run like last year, come together like we did last year, obviously a completely different team, but just kind of galvanize the group and do all those types of things in similar fashion then we should be a much better team. Not a 42-win team like last year, maybe we could be a little bit better than that, get a little bit better seed, do a little bit better in the playoffs, all that good stuff.”
MANAGING THE SECOND UNIT
With Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert out, the Nets have moved Spencer Dinwiddie and Garrett Temple into the starting lineup. But the real shuffling for Kenny Atkinson has been in managing the second unit. Who to use, and how to use them? And when? Since Dinwiddie moved into the starting lineup, the Nets are 29th in the league in bench scoring.
“That’s definitely something we’re looking at,” said Kenny Atkinson. “Maybe get the starters with them a little more, just to balance it out. But we’re playing with fire a little bit quite honestly. We definitely have to find some scoring when Spencer’s out of the game. But listen, they’re doing it with their defense. Every unit kind of has their niche and they’re defending well. Hopefully we have a day here we can look at some offense, give them some things that can help them.”
The Nets have turned to Theo Pinson for point guard minutes behind Dinwiddie, and Dzanan Musa’s wing role, sliding between the 2 and the 4, has grown. Rookie Nic Claxton moved into and out of the rotation, then gave the Nets 12 minutes Monday night with DeAndre Jordan out. After LeVert’s injury, the Nets added Iman Shumpert, who has made an instant impact.
“Our pace has decreased these last five, six games,” said Atkinson. “I do think that's a little by design. That second unit we have to get into a little more half court sets, control the tempo a little more. I think there was a plan to do that. Part of your identity is getting out and playing with pace so the good thing is if we can force turnovers that’s the easiest way to get out there and get easy baskets. Hopefully we can do that and still control the pace a bit and take care of the ball.”
DEANDRE JORDAN STATUS
Center DeAndre Jordan was a late scratch against Cleveland on Monday with ankle soreness, but Kenny Atkinson said he was likely to play Wednesday in Boston.
“Yeah, I think it was sore and we didn’t want to risk it,” said Atkinson. “I guess we’ll call it day-to-day, but knowing him, he’ll be ready.”
ABOUT THE CELTICS
The Celtics are 12-4, powered by a 10-game winning streak that followed an opening night loss. They’re 2-3 since that streak ended, including a 103-102 loss to Sacramento on Monday. Boston was without guard Kemba Walker on Monday night and he’s day-to-day with a neck injury.
Boston has the league’s sixth-ranked net rating (6.5) and is fourth in both defensive rating (102.7) and defensive effective field goal percentage (49.5).
Walker leads Boston with 21.5 points per game plus 4.7 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range. Jayson Tatum averages 20.5 points and 6.9 rebounds and Jaylen Brown averages 19.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.