Everyone remembers Gregg Popovich’s call-out of his team in the 2012 NBA playoffs. In a huddle, at the beginning of the third quarter of a Western Conference Finals game, Pop famously said, “I need a little bit more dose of nasty ... I want some nasty.”
It was a memorable Pop moment. He explained what he meant post-game, saying he thought his club was playing without confidence.
On Monday night, Jeremy Lin recycled the line a bit after the Nets upset the Grizzlies in Memphis for their 11th win.
“We want to develop a nastiness about us. We want to develop a toughness about us. Hopefully, we can continue to build on this,” Lin told reporters in the visitors locker room. He explained the win is part of an effort to build a new identity for the Nets. (It’s likely Sean Marks got it. He was director of basketball operations for the Spurs in 2012.)
No doubt there was a bit of nasty Monday night. The Nets never gave up —they rarely do. The game had 15 lead changes and nine ties. Brooklyn, led by Lin, scored 122 points against the second best defensive team in the NBA. After missing so many games (and still on a minutes restriction), Lin relished it all, hitting two big shots late.
“I’m just happy to be out on the floor,” he told Mike Fratello post-game. “If I can’t get energy after missing 50 games this season, then something is wrong with me.”
So what can the Nets do to “bring the nasty” for the remaining 20 games of the season, one quarter of the 2016-17 season, when there won’t be a post-season again.
One thing is to keep playing hard. That’s not been an issue this season. Another is to go into every game with the mindset that they can win. That may sound strange for a team that only has 11 wins in 61 games, but Monday should have helped them understand they can win whenever they take the court. They are professionals after all.
That’s what Pop meant five years ago. Confidence, not arrogance, but a sense of who you are can be. And that no doubt is what Lin meant, too.
You saw it in Isaiah Whitehead whose confidence rises, it seems, with every game, whether it’s taking the open three or working his way to the basket and finishing with authority ... and some daring-do. You saw it with Caris LeVert early on, looking to score rather than being passive.
It’s about sacrifice, too. Lin and Sean Kilpatrick in particular threw themselves at the rim Monday. Kilpatrick's 16 free throws marked a league-high for a reserve this season and the most for a Nets bench player in a game since 1983-84.
And it’s about veteran leadership.
“It’s been great for building our culture,” Kenny Atkinson said. “I see a professionalism growing and more focus on the practice floor as the older guys teach our young players. We are doing things better.”
They have a big game Wednesday against Atlanta, who’s got some culture issues to deal with. If they win, it would be a big deal. If they lose, it wouldn’t be a disaster. Development is often two steps forward, one step back. Just as long as they’re nasty.