3 key takeaways from Nets’ statement win over Nuggets
The Nets clawed out a 122-120 road win over the Denver Nuggets Sunday, their fifth in six games. Brooklyn led by 14 points with 8:40 remaining before Denver stormed back to cut the lead to one behind MVP-favorite Nikola Jokic.
But like Friday’s win at Minnesota, the Nets wouldn’t go away, fighting in the final minutes to secure arguably their best win of the season. Here are three takeaways from the Nets big road win.
Three key takeaways from the Nets’ statement win over Nuggets
3. Spencer Dinwiddie’s playmaking fuels the offense
Spencer Dinwiddie has proven what he can do as a scorer since blossoming with the Nets early in his career. He’s continued that success during his second stint in Brooklyn, averaging 20.6 points over his last eight games. But it has been Dinwiddie’s improved playmaking, something head coach Jacque Vaughn was vocal about after Friday’s win, that has fueled the offense of late.
The point guard averaged 8.1 assists over his last seven games heading into Sunday, the 10th most in the league. He built upon that trend in dramatic fashion in the Mile High City, recording a career-high 16 assists. Those dimes came in a variety of ways with Dinwiddie setting his teammates up off traps, pushing the ball, penetrating and kicking for threes or lobbing to Nic Claxton in the pick-and-roll.
Vaughn again spoke highly of Dinwiddie’s management of the offense postgame:
“Every night he’s producing for us,” the coach said. “He’s learning how to play with this group. He’s learning when to be aggressive, when to get to the rim, and how to manage this group. He’s tuned in to each individual, whether that’s in the huddle, whether that’s the last play of the game. He’s producing, he’s turned it on.”
Brooklyn finished with 32 assists as a team in the win.
2. Supporting cast emerges for well-rounded effort
As has been the case for the majority of the new-look era, Dinwiddie and Mikal Bridges led the way during Sunday’s win. Bridges scored a team-high 25 points on 7-of-16 shooting to go along with Dinwiddie’s career-best night passing the ball. However, the Nets received high-level contributions across their supporting cast, something they’ll need to beat elite teams without a superstar on the roster.
Nic Claxton posted 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting along with six rebounds and five assists, giving him the first 20-5-5 game of his career. Dorian Finney-Smith carried over his clutch shotmaking from Minnesota, converting on 5-of-7 threes while Cam Johnson added 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting with two steals.
Brooklyn’s bench, a unit that has struggled in recent weeks, completed the all-around performance. Royce O’Neale posted 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. Joe Harris turned in a high-level stretch spanning the final minutes of the third to midway through the fourth, knocking down three triples while playing active defense.
Seth Curry also continued to add a scoring punch on the road trip, contributing 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 19 minutes.
1. Nets defense steps up when it counts
Brooklyn’s defense had turned things around during a recent hot stretch after glaring struggles early on. The Nets posted the league’s best defensive rating (101.9) by a wide margin over their last five games heading into Sunday. They continued their improvement on that end when it mattered most in Denver.
After trailing by eight at the half, Brooklyn held the Nuggets to 19 points on 5-of-19 shooting in the third to open up an 11-point lead. The Nets again had success with a small-ball lineup during a long stretch in the period. After Claxton picked up his third and fourth fouls with nine minutes remaining, Brooklyn closed the frame on a 27-10 run using Dinwiddie, Bridges, O’Neale, and Finney-Smith with Johnson and Harris each playing four and a half minutes.
Poor offensive decision-making erased the lead midway through the fourth. After a foul call on a Dinwiddie drive was overturned with 23 seconds remaining, Denver got the ball down one with 23 seconds remaining. Like their win in Minnesota, the Nets needed a key stop. They got it.
Brooklyn first doubled Jokic, who posted a monstrous stat line of 35 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists, forcing a pass back to former Net Bruce Brown, who drove and missed a contested floater.
But with the Nets unable to secure the rebound, Denver would get another crack at it. Brooklyn buckled down to get another stop with Dinwiddie executing a perfectly-timed double on Jokic to force a difficult fadeaway with Johnson securing the rebound.
Bridges would split a pair of free throws on the other end, giving the Nuggets the ball with 1.9 seconds left for another chance to tie or win the game.
But Brooklyn would force a third miss to secure the win with O’Neale denying a post entry to Jokic before carefully contesting a three without fouling.
The win brings the Nets to 39-29 on the season and 6-7 with their new-look roster. Brooklyn sits a half-game up on the Knicks for fifth place in the Eastern Conference and two and a half back of Cleveland for fourth. They’ll close out a five-game road trip in Oklahoma City Tuesday before returning for a four-game homestand.