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HAPPY NEW YEAR! Nets grind down the stretch, defeat Magic, 98-95

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Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Happy New Year! Your Brooklyn Nets are undefeated in 2018.

It was what it was: The second game of a back-to-back on New Year’s Day. For the Nets, it all worked in their favor as they were able to push through late in the fourth quarter to gain a 98-95 victory, Monday night at Barclays Center.

In the end, the two teams exchanged buckets down the stretch, but Caris LeVert took Bismack Biyombo to the hole and converted on an and-one to put Brooklyn up by one with a minute remaining.

The Magic went 1-of-4 in the final minute of action plus an important missed free throw that would’ve put them up by one. D.J. Augustin had a chance to tie the game with 5.9 seconds left, but missed and Allen Crabbe grabbed the rebound as time expired.

Caris LeVert continued his stellar play with 15 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals in 27 minutes. It was his fourth consecutive game with seven or more assists and ninth straight game in double figures.

YES reported LeVert (15 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists) is the first Nets player in 34 years to record 10+ points, 5+ boards and 5+ assists off the bench in four straight games.

It was the first game of a 5-game home stand for Brooklyn after recovering from a 1-4 record on a 5-game road-trip. It was marked the end of a six-game losing streak in the second game of back-to-backs for Brooklyn.

“Our guys really felt the togetherness and a real sense of ‘we wanted to play well in this back-to-back,’ ” Kenny Atkinson said. He also made it a point to thank the Post for motivating the team. The Post, the head coach said, “kept telling us that we were not good on back-to-backs.”

The Nets looked a bit out of sync early. They only took nine 3-pointers by half – eight, less than their average of 17 in first halves this season. That alone serves as proof that they didn’t exactly play ‘pace and space’ the way they’d like.

Still, the chemistry between LeVert and Jarrett Allen kept Brooklyn within one at half.

Then, they started playing their style of ball in the third quarter. They hit just as many three’s in the first 3:38 of the third as they did the entire first half. They took their first lead in the third, but failed to pull away.

And so, it became a seesaw battle up until the very end.

This was the final minute:

  • LeVert took Bismack Biyombo on a one-on-one and got the bucket and the foul, putting Brooklyn up by two with 1:03 remaining.
  • Elfrid Payton answered with a bucket on RHJ, 95-95 45 seconds left.
  • DeMarre Carroll hits 1-of-2, Nets lead 96-95.
  • Evan Fournier missed a 3-pointer, Allen Crabbe hit 2-of-2, 98-95.
  • The Magic missed two potential game-tying 3-pointers and the Nets ran out the clock (!)

It wasn’t pretty by any means. The Nets shot 44 percent and 9-of-35 from 3-point, but they held Orlando to 36.5 percent and 6-of-31 shooting from 3-point.

Jarrett Allen finished with a career-high 16 points and six rebounds on 7-of-8 shooting. His length has become a serious threat on both sides, particularly when LeVert is playing point.

Carroll stayed solid with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds. Allen Crabbe looked better than the past couple of games with 15 points on 3-of-6 shooting from deep, and more importantly he played tight defense down the stretch.

Said Crabbe: "I'm low key tired of hearing people trying to question my defense.”

In fact, the Nets improved to 9-0 this season when holding their opponent under 100 points (95) and 7-0 when holding their opponent under 40.0% shooting (36.5%).

Bismack Biyombo held down the fort for Orlando with 13 points and 17 rebounds, but the Nets were content with shots from mid-range. And that’s exactly what they did.

JAH FREE ON WEDNESDAY?

Prior to Monday’s game, Atkinson said that Jahlil Okafor should see minutes against Minnesota on Wednesday. Okafor has played in one game since the trade to Brooklyn in early December. Atkinson has often said that Okafor needed time to work on conditioning and learning the system.

Now, it’s almost showtime for the big fella, who’s clearly impressed in the gym.

“He’s close. I’d expect to see him against Minnesota,” Atkinson said before Monday’s game. “I think we’ll start to get him some minutes. He’s been doing a phenomenal job getting ready physically with our assistant coaches learning what we’re doing. Collectively we feel like he’s ready to get some minutes.”

“It’s not going to be 48 minutes right off the bat,” Atkinson said. “Like anybody, you’ve got to earn it with play. Let’s see it in small doses and hopefully build him up to bigger minutes.”

***
The Nets are now 14-23 with four games at home. They did win their 14th game until game no. 70 last season. Take that for improvement!

For a different perspective, head on over to Orlando PinStriped Post.