In pulling off a comeback for the ages Tuesday night in Sacramento, the Brooklyn Nets were fueled down the stretch by a lineup we hadn’t seen before.
The phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention” dates back to ancient Greece, uttered by Plato in his Republic dialogue more than 2,000 years ago. Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson might beg to differ with that long-held belief, however.
In Tuesday’s win over the Sacramento Kings in which his Nets posted the biggest comeback victory in franchise history, climbing out of a 28-point hole in the final 13:16 of the game to pick up a 123-121 win, Atkinson discovered that it may be desperation that is the mother of invention.
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With just 15 seconds gone in the fourth quarter, Atkinson reinserted All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell to quarterback a five-man unit that was unconventional.
Those four players, along with Russell, had never been on the court together before and there’s a pretty good chance we’ll never see that unit again.
DLo and the 4s — the other four players on the court have all spent time as the starters at the Nets’ troublesome power forward spot this season — put up numbers that will defy the analytics community for years.
Atkinson admitted, via Brian Lewis of the New York Post, that the unlikely combination on the court was not by design, but rather as a means of sending a wakeup call to the players currently in the rotation.
"“We didn’t have it, our starters didn’t have it, our top eight didn’t have it and I was trying to wake them up. I’ll give Jared Dudley a ton of credit, he’s the ringleader of that group. They played for an hour this morning. I’m so thrilled to see them rewarded for all the work.“The coaching was terrible. The timeouts, I used up my timeouts. They never responded. I really believe that. I wouldn’t said that win or lose.“We put a group out there, a bunch of players that have a great bond, a great spirit and were working their tails off behind closed door and it was 100 percent on them. That’s player ownership. So glad to see them rewarded.”"
It was Russell who provided much of the push, scoring 27 of his career-high 44 points in the fourth quarter, while Hollis-Jefferson dropped in nine of Brooklyn’s first 11 points in the period and had 12 of his 14 overall in the fourth.
The group was on the floor for 11:40 of the 12 minutes in the final quarter. Spencer Dinwiddie played 15 seconds at the point guard spot on a late defensive possession and Joe Harris replaced Graham for the final five seconds to serve as the inbounder on what proved to be the game-winning play.
The Nets were 16-of-23 from the floor with that quintet and made 6-of-9 from 3-point range, while holding Sacramento to just 18 points — going plus-25 overall.
Projected out over 100 possessions (mandatory small sample size alert!!!), that group played to a net of plus-86.3.
It never should have worked, but it did. Brooklyn forced seven Sacramento turnovers in the final quarter, held them to 22.7 percent shooting (5-for-22) and 0-for-8 from deep and outrebounded the Kings 12-10.
The Nets had five steals, two each by Russell and Hollis-Jefferson and one by Dudley. The 3-point barrage came from DLo (4-for-7) and Dudley (2-for-2).
Kurucs and Graham didn’t score during the run, but the Latvian rookie blocked a shot and Graham picked up four rebounds and an assist.
And wow did that group defend.
De’Aaron Fox turned the ball over three times and was 0-for-4 from the floor in his eight minutes in the period. Buddy Hield was 2-for-6 in the fourth and missed all three of his deep tries, going 0-for-8 on the night.
Harry Giles had two turnovers in four minutes. Harrison Barnes missed both of his shots. Even rookie Marvin Bagley, who had torched Brooklyn for 24 points on 11-of-12 shooting in the first three quarters, went 1-for-3 as the Kings were disintegrating down the stretch.
Somewhere down the line, years from now, when some basketball historian is looking at the lineup combinations for the 2018-19 Brooklyn Nets, they’re going to stumble across a unit that reads: “J. Dudley, D. Russell, R. Hollis-Jefferson, T. Graham, R. Kurucs” and see they were plus-25.
Then they’ll look at the breakdown of the season statistics and likely think …
“What the hell were they thinking?”
Pure desperation, future NBA analytics dude. Pure, unadulterated desperation.
It can also be the mother of invention, don’t you know.