February 21, 2019

Theo Pinson, a Brooklyn Nets two-way player, leads the Nets with 19 points; Shabbaz Napier steps in for Spencer Dinwiddie and scores 18 points

Watching the New York Knicks play the Brooklyn Nets last night was reminiscent of the Brooklyn Nets the last three seasons before they found their way. The Knicks led the Brooklyn Nets for almost two full quarters, as the Nets have led countless other teams in the past, and then suddenly the opponent dropped the boom and surged for the win. The Nets trailed the Knicks by as much as 10 points in the first quarter and ended that quarter down seven 37-30. A similar occurrence happened in the second, this time down by as much as 11 points, 51-40 at 7:10, but creating a different ending at the half finishing with a tie score, 60-60. Through the third, the Nets ended on top 87-82, and the fourth leading by as much as 17 points at 3:33 and ending the game with a 109-99 win.

In a game when the Nets were without Spencer Dinwiddie because of a thumb injury, the real story of the night was Theo Pinson, an undrafted graduate from the University of North Carolina. On a two-way contract with the Brooklyn Nets, Pinson led all Nets scorers with a career-high and team-high 19 points (5-of-11 FG, 3-of-5 3FG, 6-of-6 FT), a career-high eight rebounds, and a career-high two steals and two assists. Pinson now holds the most points tallied in a game by a Nets two-way player in the two seasons since two-way contracts have been implemented. This wasn’t Pinson’s first game with the Nets and his previous career-high was nine points against Toronto on January 11, 2018.

And, Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson had not even considered Pinson to be in the rotation.

“It’s a great job,” Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson said about Pinson. “Shouldn’t say unexpected but didn’t originally have him in the rotation. Thought we were struggling and threw him in there, and we didn’t want to take him out. Heck of a job. It’s a credit to our G League – the Long Island Nets – the job they’ve done there, Will Weaver, the head coach, and all the assistants. He’s a part of our program, did a heck of a job and didn’t skip a beat. (He) knew everything we were doing tactically. Just a really smooth transition.”

Pinson, who was on the ready, said of his opportunity, “it was huge, I was actually looking forward to it. Once we went down early, I was just hoping I got the shot and tried to make the best of it.”

Sometimes people, and even reporters, think of players in the NBA’s G-League as not as good as their NBA counterparts. As such, a reporter asked Pinson where he got the confidence to go in and play well tonight.

“Confidence,” Pinson responded. “Confidence and I know I can shoot the ball and they encourage you to shoot here. It was something that I’ve been working all summer and every single day with Shaun Fein, Will Weaver and all those guys who have helped me to this point. I can’t thank those two enough as far as keeping us ready. We run the same stuff up there (Long Island) so I’m not behind when I come here, and it’s helped me out tremendously.”

In addition to Pinson, the other leading Brooklyn Nets scorers came from its bench. Shabbaz Napier scored 18 points; Ed Davis, who is not a prolific scorer, registered a double-double 17 points, 16 rebounds, and three assists, and; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tallied 10 points, seven rebounds, and three rebounds.

Napier filling in for Dinwiddie told reporters what it felt like being in the starting line-up.

“Just be myself,” Napier said. “At the end of the day I play with a lot of heart and I just go out there and try my best to give any type of spark I can. I think collectively we all did that.”

Napier also responded to a question of whether the chemistry he and Ed Davis had coming from Portland helped him in last night’s game.

“Yea I think so. I’ve been playing with Ed (Davis) for three years now. On and off the court he’s been a tremendous help for myself and I think the chemistry, being together with somebody for three years – you build something. I think today we were able to contribute in a lot of ways.”

As for the Nets starters, D’Angelo Russell scored 12 points, four assist, and three rebounds; while Joe Harris chipped in 10 points, seven rebounds, and three assists.

For the New York Knicks, Trey Burke led all scorers with 25 points, five assists, and two steals; Noah Vonleh scored 22 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, and two blocked shots; Allonzo Trier registered 13 points, and; Tim Hardaway, Jr. chipped in 10 points and three rebounds.

David Fizdale was disappointed in his team’s fourth-quarter performance, particularly in the first half.

“The offense stalled from that standpoint and we weren’t finishing our defensive stops with rebounds,” Fizdale said. “One way or another we put Brooklyn on the line 47 times. It’s very difficult to win a game on the road when you do that.”

Knicks fans, who seemed to outnumber Brooklyn Nets fans at the Barclays Center, left the Barclays Center with similar disappointment. Unfortunately, Knicks fans had to grapple with seeing the Nets improve to 27-23 overall and the Knicks falling to 10-37. The Nets are a league-best 19-5 in their last 24 games, matching their best 24-game stretch in franchise history.

Each team will have another opportunity to improve their records. The New York Knicks will play the Miami Heat tomorrow, at Madison Square Garden. As for the Nets, they travel to Boston to play the Boston Celtics on Monday, January 28, 2019, and then on Tuesday, January 29, 2019, the Nets will be at home to play the Chicago Bulls at the Barclays Center at 7:30 p.m.

VIDEO: Coach Kenny Atkinson summarizes his thoughts about the Nets performance during their first preseason game playing the New York Knicks

REPORTER 1: Obviously, you guys put a lot of emphasis in getting shooting out on the floor. But when you see those, when you see those numbers what jumps out at you? Is it shooting or, is it something else?

COACH ATKINSON: I think it's, yes it’s the shooting Brian, that we missed a lot of open shots. But still, I thought we took some contested shots especially the contested ones off the dribble. You know the contested threes off the dribble is a tough shot. I felt like we took too many of those. But I do think our offense has a long way to go. We struggled to execute. You know give, give the Knicks credit that they pressured, put pressure on our guards, did a good job of getting into the ball and we struggled, struggled executing.

REPORTER 2: You know that (Enes) Kanter had his way with you on the inside again deep you 22 points 20 rebounds. What do you think the problem was there? It's the undersized or just poor defense?

COACH ATKINSON: First of all, he’s a very good player and he's a load. So when we play in the first game of the regular season, we’re going to need to do a better job. I thought he caught the ball too easily in the post, so a guy like that so good with the ball post, you better keep it from him or push him off the blocks. He caught it too deep. You know that we let him get to the middle too much I thought. And then, in offensive rebounding, we just we can't box him out with one guy, you know. We need two guys. We need three guys and I’m going to say this all year, we need five guys, five guys coming back to rebound. So that's kind of his strength, but we have to do a much better job. You're correct on that.

REPORTER 2: Caris (LeVert) kind of showed us I think what you might have been seeing in all this preseason and training camp. How would you evaluate his performance?

COACH ATKINSON: I thought he was up and down, you know, I thought he did some good things and obviously he gets to the rim well. I thought some of those contested threes were on his plate. He needs to clean up his shot selection a little. I would say it was up and down, some good things mixed in and like I said, shot selection was one, one of the things that concerned me a little bit.

REPORTER 1: With Caris(LeVert) specifically, is one of those things defense on (Allonzo) Trier who obviously had a heck of a night? And I guess, you know somewhat to a lesser extent, you know, you talked about how if you had everybody healthy you would be able to go big and be able to use a lot of different lineups and take a look at a lot of different things. Did the fact you had so many forwards that were out they kind of prevent you from experimenting you can see how those people are?

COACH ATKINSON: Yeah, and yeah, I think, I think we were obviously we had a few guys out and so that too. You know the first game Brian, we’re really, you know focused on understanding the minutes where guys gotta play, so it’s tough to mix and match a little bit at that first preseason game because you know guys were on a set number of minutes and that’s, that's on me. So didn’t maybe have a chance playing Ed (Davis) and Jarrett (Allen) together like I said we might. But yes, I thought Allonzo Trier he drove the heck out of the ball and especially in the first half, we couldn’t keep him in front of us and that was, that was collectively, everybody got beat by him and credit to him he was very aggressive driving the ball.

REPORTER 3: Kenny, Rodi (Rodions Kurucs) had some good numbers and good moments in the fourth, what did you see there?

COACH ATKINSON: Yeah, I was very pleased with Rodi, I loved was his energy. I think he, he's a talented guy and he’s got nice length. I like how he drove it. You know, he showed some good things defensively. Listen, I think at training camp, he's been, talk about Caris and the other guys, but I thought he's been a little bit of a surprise, you know. He's a multi-position player. I think his speed is better than I thought. I was, I was really pleased with how well he played, love his energy he came out with.

REPORTER 3: Did you kind of go into it thinking you really want to give an opportunity to look at?

ATKINSON: Yeah, no doubt. We had him right up there. We want to see these guys play right off the bat. And then secondly, he's earned it. He earned it in training camp. You know every time he stepped on the floor when we scrimmaged, or in our breakdowns, he's been, he's been, he's been impressive and confirmed tonight that he's a talented, talented player.

REPORTER 2: And, you talked about him (Rodions Kurucs) the other day, as a stretch five. Even though it was garbage time and it was scrubs against scrubs.
Did you like the instincts he showed, as far as, being in the right place you know kind of showing a basketball IQ, showing passing ability, good hands?

ATKINSON: Yes, I loved, though, I liked all that. I think he showed good instincts passing the ball. And again, maybe the thing I liked about him, he doesn't have any fear that keeps, you know, he's going to, he's barreling in there and he's hitting guys.

And you know, I just like how aggressive he was, that his overall energy, it was like just a real bright spot, really. I thought it really helped that third unit, you know play pretty well.

 

 

Nets rookie Rodions Kurucs playing in his first NBA game showed true grit scoring 13 points in 12 minutes, all in the fourth quarter

Granted it's a preseason game, in a new season, but the Brooklyn Nets still look like the team of last season. The first competitive game for the Brooklyn Nets in the 2018-19 NBA season was held at the Barclays Center tonight against its East River rival, the New York Knicks. The one thing that was different from the very start was that a Brooklyn Brigade fan group showed up in full force and cheered the Nets from start to finish shutting down any Knicks’ fans in the audience. Believe me, this is a first. At one Knicks game last season, when I checked in on Facebook, the app thought I was at Madison Square Garden and would not allow me to put in the Barclays Center.

Tonight the Nets got off to a good start, which isn’t unusual, leading by as much as 15 points with 1:04 left in the first quarter. But in the closing minute of the first quarter, New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina put up a three-pointer at the 50-second mark. Nets guard Joe Harris missed a 3-point jumper with 35 seconds left, and Knicks guard Allonzo Trier added another three points at the buzzer, ending the first quarter with a score of Nets 26 and the Knicks 17.

During the second stanza, with just under eight minutes left to play in the half, the Nets had a 15-point lead (38-23). However, the New York Knicks found cracks in the armor and little by little chipped away to end the first-half 50-46. The reverse of fortunes continued into the third, when the Knicks went up 10, ending the third quarter with a score of 81-71. The Nets tried to claw their way back in the fourth quarter and came within one point (99-98) at the 2:26 mark, however, turnovers and defensive pressure on the part of the Knicks at the end of the day is what contributed to the Nets demise in Preseason Game 1, ending with a hurtful 107-102.

“I thought that we missed a lot of open ones,” Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson told the media during his postgame interview. “But still I thought that we took some contested ones, especially the contested ones off the dribble. You know the contested threes off the dribble – it’s a tough shot, I felt like too many of those. But, I do think our offense has a long way to go. We struggled to execute, give the Knicks credit. I thought they pressured our guards and did a good job of getting into the ball and we struggled executing.”

“There were a lot of positives,” an assessment that Nets guard D’Angelo Russell gave the media in his locker room postgame presser. “I think we came out and competed, played hard. We focused on what coach was expecting of us. Things we can work on as well. But it’s something that we can watch film, build on it.”

In adversity, there is generally a silver lining somewhere, and Net rookie Rodions Kurucs was it. During the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, Kurucs got his first opportunity to play in an NBA game and he was pushing for a real comeback. Kurucs scored 13 points in 12 minutes.

Russell was not surprised by Kurucs’ deliverables.

Asked what he sees in practice from Kurucs that translated into tonight’s game, and Russell responded, “Same thing, same thing. He’s active, he’s athletic, he plays hard, he knows his role. He knows what he’s capable of. He never steps outside the box. He’s the guy that plays hard and brings that energy.”

“It was really emotional for me because I didn’t play last year,” Kurucs said about getting his chance to play for the first time ever in the NBA. “It was a really good moment for me. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed every minute.”

Kurucs was drafted by the Brooklyn Nets in the 2018 NBA Draft in the second round (40th overall).

“I think I bring energy on defense,” Kurucs continued. “I’m just working on all the stuff, what coach told me. I’ll help my team out. I’ll do all my best. I’ll give my all.”

And, from tonight’s performance, he’s definitely one to watch this season.

The Nets had six players to score in double digits. Caris LeVert led the Nets with 15 points and four steals. Both Spencer Dinwiddie and Kurucs scored 13 points. Dinwiddie added six assists, while Kurucs added four rebounds and four steals. Russell and Treveon Graham each tallied 11 points. Russell added three rebounds and three assists, while, Graham secured eight rebounds and three assists. Joe Harris chipped in 10 points and three rebounds.

For the Knicks, Allonzo Trier led all scorers with 25 points and four rebounds; his teammate, Enes Kanter contributed 22 points and 20 rebounds.

Next up, for the Knicks, are the New Orleans Pelicans at home at Madison Square Garden on Friday, October 5, 2018.

The Nets travel to Detroit to take on the Pistons on Monday, October 8, 2018. The Nets first regular season game at home will be against the New York Knicks on Friday, October 19, 2018. 

In His Own Words: Rodions Kurucs:

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