After Thursday night’s loss to the Spurs, the final score was of secondary concern. First thoughts went to David Nwaba, who crashed to the floor and left the game in the midst of San Antonio’s game-changing run with what the team announced as a right Achilles’ injury.
“I’m concerned about David Nwaba,” said head coach Kenny Atkinson. “Hurt himself out there tonight. That’s really where our thoughts are. It’s tough to focus on the game right now. He’s playing as well as anybody on our team, so tough blow. That’s kind of where our hearts and minds are right now.”
After being in and out of the rotation over the season’s first month, Nwaba had almost instantly become an indispensable piece in the stretch since Thanksgiving. In his last nine games going into Thursday night, he averaged 8.3 points in just 16.7 minutes per game while shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point range and 48.2 percent overall.
But the offense was a bonus, something that elevated his game. It was defense that Nwaba had built his NBA career on over the last three years after going undrafted and starting his pro career in the G League. With the Nets’ depth tested by the injuries to the starting backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert, Nwaba’s relentless defense and efficient and opportunistic scoring had helped stabilize Brooklyn’s second unit.
“He started to come in, started to play more defense, started to knock down shots,” said Jarrett Allen. “He was kind of that guy in the second unit that got us going.”
“Energy. Defensive level. Defense. Causes havoc. And has been scoring,” said Garrett Temple. “Getting out in transition, knocking down threes for us. He’s been playing both sides very, very efficiently. Definitely going to miss that. Hate to see that, man, especially with a great guy.”
“He’s been great,” said Atkinson. “He’s been one of our better players. You talk about our defensive activity and our defensive improvement, he’s a big part of it. I just wish him the speediest recovery. There’s no guy on the team that did things more perfectly than him in terms of preparing for a game, preparing for a season. You feel ill when you think about it.”
Allen described the team as “speechless” in seeing Nwaba grabbing his leg after hitting the deck. On the bench, Spencer Dinwiddie saw the look on Nwaba’s face that told him it was a significant injury. And Atkinson quickly knew it was “more than a sprained ankle.”
Temple was on the floor at the time, but had his back to Nwaba when he first went down.
“I thought I saw him holding his foot,” said Temple. “I was hoping it was his ankle. One of my teammates told me it was his Achilles. It’s just bad, man. Great guy. Worked hard to get in the league. Playing probably the best he’s played since he’s been in the NBA. It’s just tough. My heart goes out to him.”
With the Atlanta Hawks due at Barclays Center, Atkinson will be back to resetting the rotation, looking at the possibilities of youngsters Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs, or Theo Pinson to fill in.
“When this happens, it’s kind of a shock,” said Atkinson. “We’ll get it together. We’ve got a great group of guys in the locker room. We’ll get it together. Coaches will get it together. Obviously we’ll have to have support from our bench and our young guys will have to step it up and pull a little of the slack.”
CAREER HIGH FOR DINWIDDIE
Lost in the shuffle against the Spurs was Spencer Dinwiddie’s career-high 41-point outing. Dinwiddie carried the Brooklyn offense mostly by punishing the Spurs on penetration, shooting 14-for-29 overall, but 10-for-18 on 2-pointers — all in the paint — plus 9-for-10 from the free throw line.
“(San Antonio was) playing the lob a lot,” said Dinwiddie. “You just try to be aggressive. You try to take away JA and then try and take away shooters. That’s pretty much why I played the way I played. If they went under, I shot a 3. If they went over, I attacked the basket.”
ANOTHER ALLEN DOUBLE-DOUBLE
It was another double-double for Jarrett Allen on Thursday, this time 19 points and 13 rebounds. It was Allen’s 14th double-double over the season and his sixth game with at least 13 rebounds, elevating his season average to 10.6.
“Consistency. I think the rebounding piece, how he’s really picked that up,” said Kenny Atkinson before Thursday’s game in San Antonio. “Just his strength. There was a clip last game where he was between two guys. He went up for the rebound and the other two guys fell on the floor and it was like, man, we didn’t see that from Jarrett the past two years. So his overall strength, his physical ability. And that’s a credit to him and our performance staff that have worked really hard with him in the offseason and his consistent dedication to improving his body. But he just keeps getting better.”
On Wednesday, the day between games, Allen took a trip to Austin, where his high school, St. Stephen’s Episcopal, retired the 21-year-old’s No. 35 jersey.
“He’s practically still in high school, as young as he is,” said Atkinson. “It was great for his family. It’s kind of cool. He’s in the state of Texas, here playing San Antonio, that just happened. It’s great. I know he asked me to skip a day, I said absolutely. It’s a great honor. Very proud for him.”
SAN ANTONIO STREAK
The Nets were 14 minutes away from ending a losing streak in San Antonio that dates back to the 2003 NBA Finals, leading by 10 points late in the third quarter. And then it all fell apart.
The Brooklyn defense, which has been so sound over the last two months, allowed the Spurs to shoot 17-for-30 and 5-for-9 from 3-point range over the final 14 minutes. Up to that point, the Nets had limited San Antonio to 39.3 percent shooting (26-for-66), including 8-for-24 from 3-point range. Meanwhile, the Nets missed all 11 of their 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
“They turned some bad shots on our end, some careless turnovers on our end, into easy baskets,” said Joe Harris. “Good team like that, once they establish a rhythm offensively, they start flying off the screens, knocking down shots. Guys start getting in more of a rhythm, and that’s sort of what happened in the second half. The momentum definitely shifted, but a lot of it was just us, bad shots, careless turnovers leading to good offense for them.”
ABOUT THE HAWKS
The Hawks are 6-23 and have lost their last six games. The Nets won the first meeting with the Hawks on Dec. 4 in Atlanta, 130-118, with Trae Young leading the Hawks with 39 points and 10 assists.
Young is fourth in the NBA in scoring with 28.4 points per game and fourth with 8.5 assists per game. But overall, the Hawks are 27th in both offensive rating (104.4) and defensive rating (114.0), as well as 28th in rebounds per game (41.8).