Brooklyn Nets: D’Angelo Russell takes on the closer role

Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images) /

On Tuesday night, the Brooklyn Nets needed points down the stretch as the Miami Heat tried to chip away at their lead. D’Angelo Russell answered the call.

The Brooklyn Nets had flipped their own script Tuesday night, quickly erasing a four-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to open the lead up to as much as eight points over the Miami Heat.

But with less than six minutes left, the Nets had gone cold and the Heat were fighting back.

Ed Davis lost the ball out of bounds and Miami responded with an inside bucket from Hassan Whiteside, who completed the and-one to cut Brooklyn’s lead to five.

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Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sent the ball flying out of bounds while attempting to go behind his back and Whiteside’s tip-in cut the lead to three.

When Wayne Ellington picked off Joe Harris‘ errant pass, the Heat came downcourt with a chance to cut the lead to one or tie the game. But Brooklyn’s defense harassed Josh Richardson into a bad pass and a turnover.

Brooklyn desperately needed a basket, though, to stop the bleeding and get the game out of one-possession range.

When Caris LeVert went down last week with a dislocated right foot, one of the biggest aspects he took with him to the sidelines was his ability to create offense in one-on-one situations late in games.

On Tuesday, with no LeVert available, point guard D’Angelo Russell stepped up when the Nets needed him most.

Russell got free for a floater from just inside the free-throw line to push the lead back to five.

On the next possession, after Whiteside had split a pair of free throwxs, Russell had a shot blocked in the lane, got the ball back, deked Whiteside into thinking he was going to the basket and spun for a gorgeous little seven-foot turnaround fader to push the lead back to six.

After the teams exchanged misses, Russell drove past his man and got Whiteside on his hip, extending the ball to the basket and flipping it off the board for a layup and an eight-point lead.

The Heat had gotten it back down to a six-point game after the Nets had a couple of empty possessions, but Russell once again found a lane and went to the basket to make it 98-90 with 2:13 remaining.

That’s eight straight points over a span of a little more than three minutes that helped Brooklyn get the lead pushed back out to eight.

Spencer Dinwiddie helped insert the dagger from there, intercepting a soft pass from Richardson and dishing to a cutting Joe Harris for a layup and a double-digit lead.

Russell finished the night with 20 points on 9-of-22 shooting. He was 2-for-8 from 3-point range, missing his last five attempts from deep.

But he also notched nine rebounds, six assists and four steals while scoring at least 20 points for the third consecutive game — the first time he’s done that since joining the Nets last season and the third time in his career.

But it’s been a long time since those last two similar streaks. Russell scored at least 20 in three straight games in March 2016 for the Los Angeles Lakers, just after putting together a four-game streak to close out February and enter March of that year — his rookie season in the NBA.

Consistency — or the lack thereof — has always been one of the biggest knocks against Russell, that and his lackadaisical effort on defense. He’s addressed the latter — his work on the defensive end this season has been solid for the most part.

And after there was some controversy earlier this season about Russell being benched down the stretch, he got an opportunity Tuesday night to close and helped the Nets extend their lead and ultimately put away a come-from-behind victory with a dominant fourth quarter.

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It’s the type of performance Brooklyn will have to keep getting from their 22-year-old floor leader if they are to string together enough wins to stay in the playoff picture while LeVert convalesces.