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Russell drops 44, RHJ hits game-winner as Nets complete most improbable comeback in franchise history

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Sacramento Kings Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The feeling was doom and gloom. The reality was a fourth straight loss lingering as the Nets trailed the Kings 103-78 to start the fourth. It would’ve been a one-loss difference between the playoffs and the ninth seed.

It just felt... dead.

And then it came alive.

Kenny Atkinson was disgruntled, even angry, on the sideline, noticeably frustrated with the lack of effort and heart in the biggest game of the season. In came Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whose seen four DNP-CD’s in the last six prior to Tuesday.

The Nets went on a 19-4 run behind Hollis-Jefferson’s lead and the Nets were within 10 with seven minutes to play. Then, he handed the keys over to D’Angelo Russell.

Russell went onto have a career-night for himself in the franchise’s biggest game since moving to Brooklyn. He came in, drove the ball and seemingly nailed everything he took and scored 27 points in the final quarter, 44 on the night — a new career-high.

It was 103-78 to start the fourth.

It turned into a crazy immeasurable run for Brooklyn, one where Russell scored 16 straight points capped off with a Jared Dudley three-pointer to take a 121-119 lead. Following two free throws from De’Aron Fox, the Nets, somehow, had a chance to win the game. They just needed to get a shot off because Sacramento didn’t have a timeout left.

Hollis-Jefferson catches. Russell was target. The hand-off fails, as Sacramento’s ball denial was strong enough for D’Angelo to tell Rondae, “GO!”

So, he went and he finished with 0.8 second left. Nets lead, 123-121.

Buddy Hield missed a heave and the Nets rejoiced around the player who Russell called, “The heart and soul” after the game. It was a 123-121 victory over the Sacramento Kings, who took off following a 20-0 run in the third quarter.

The Nets’ 45-18 advantage in the fourth and improbable 28-point comeback is the biggest the Nets have overcome entering a fourth quarter since moving to Brooklyn.

They improved the 37-36 on the year — good for a three-game lead on the Orlando Magic (against whom they also hold the tiebreak). The improbable win comes a night after the Nets made a 10-0 run in 57 seconds of the final 1:02 in their last game, only to see their hopes get drained with a game-winning shot from Lou Williams.

Even Kenny Atkinson admitted his fourth quarter line-up of Russell and four PF’s was a desperation move.

“I’m speechless, really. The locker room wasn’t speechless, that’s a jubilant locker room,” said Atkinson. “We were at our wit’s end. It was desperation. We turned to that group, a little bit like let’s conserve our main guys and play it out…. I wasn’t expecting an amazing comeback. I just have to be honest.”

D’ANGELO RUSSELL

The Nets trimmed the deficit to 18 when Russell started attacking the hole more. He dropped 10 of the next 12 points for Brooklyn and brought the Nets within 10 with 7:22 left in the fourth.

Later, with the Nets down six and seemingly desperate with 4:43 left, Russell got to the line and started a miraculous run with two free throws. It was a sequence in which Russell scored 16 straight points for the Nets — four layups and two three-pointers.

There were six points that coated Russell’s 16 — two three-pointers from Jared Dudley who like RHJ, hasn’t seen much time of late. Dudley started the run, Dudley ended the run. Both were off assists from Russell, who finished with 12 assists and four steals.

We saw exactly why Russell is an All-Star and due for a big paycheck for years to come.

It was the first time since 2000-01 that a Nets player finished with at least 44 and 12. Stephon Marbury had 50 and 12 back in February of that season.

RONDAE HOLLIS-JEFFERSON

Most saw his substitution as a means of throwing in the white towel.

We saw it as a means of desperation for heart from Kenny Atkinson.

Hollis-Jefferson saw it as salvation. He was a plus-26 on the night. He was on the floor for everything and sparked a fire — driving the ball hard, chasing after loose balls... everything to make the most out of his opportunity.

“It’s tough sitting on the bench and watching your guys go to war, but I was ready.”

Rondae has been the heart and soul of this club. He does the things that don’t show up in the box score — a gel guy who’s so important to keeping everybody tight in Brooklyn’s locker room. There is simply no way of measuring his heart. But he has it. No advanced stats, analytics, etc.

He’s a Net and he deserved the moment.

... It’s real.

***

It’s a small sample of one game. A pessimist might say they shouldn’t put themselves in these positions to begin with, and that’s completely justified. But like Rondae, this team has something no box-score can measure and that’s heart.

We continue to say it’s the biggest win in the Atkinson-Marks era, but it’s the truth. This is a team that’s been in the playoffs all year. It’s their common goal. It’s important to look at the big picture and understand they’ve overachieved all season, but anything short at this point would be a disappointment.

“They” said the Nets needed a win or two on this trip to avoid disaster.

Well, here’s one.

It’s crucial they roll into L.A. with momentum from this game. And if there was any need for further motivation, beyond the playoff push and DLo’s return, how’s this? If the Jazz beat the Hawks Thursday, a Nets win over the Lakers would eliminate L.A. and LeBron from the playoffs.

Sweet.

—-

FEELIN’ GOOD

PLAYOFF RACE

Too. close. for. comfort. (Before Tuesday’s game).

And post-game? The Nets are now 37-36, the first time since the 2013-14 season that the Nets have a winning record this late in the season. Back then, they were 43-36 after Game 79.

They are now in seventh, a half game behind the Pistons and a game and a half ahead of the Heat. Ninth place Orlando is three games behind Brooklyn. Nets have a tiebreaker against both the Pistons and the Magic.

BY THE NUMBERS

From various sources...

—The Nets trailed by 25 points entering the 4th quarter, but they outscored the Kings 45-18 the rest of the way to win 123-121. Prior to Tuesday, teams trailing by 25+ points through 3 quarters were 3-3,028. That’s a 99.9 percent certainty.

—D’Angelo Russell’s sixth three-pointer was his 202nd of the season, breaking Allen Crabbe’s single-season franchise record (set last season). He is eighth in the NBA.

—D’Angelo Russell’s 44 points mark a new career-high and match the most points scored by a Net in the Brooklyn era (since 2012-13). Bojan Bogdanovic tallied 44 points for the Nets In March 2016 vs. Philadelphia.

—Russell (career-high 44 points, 12 assists) became the first Net with 44+ points and 12+ assists in a game since Stephon Marbury notched 50 points and 12 assists in February 2001 vs. the Lakers.

—Russell scored 27 of his career high 44 points in the 4th quarter – the most scoring in a 4th quarter this season by an NBA player. Previous was 25 points recorded by Kevin Durant and Paul George.

—The Nets have picked up their 12th win of the season by three or fewer points, matching a single-season franchise record (previously set in 1978-79).

—It matched the worst collapse in Kings franchise history ... 28 points. It was also the largest fourth-quarter collapse in franchise history surpassing 17-point leads they let slip away in 2015 and 1978.

WOJ DOESN’T SPECULATE, HE WORKS...

In ESPN’s latest mini video on the Brooklyn Nets, Adrian Wojnarowski sits down with Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell, Kenny Atkinson and Jared Dudley to discuss the trajectory of this Brooklyn Nets team. At the end, you can hear him say, “Brooklyn has become a place of intrigue for star free agents.”

For the whole video, click here.

AND STEPHEN A. SPEAKS

Brooklyn, he says, is in the building and by building, he means this summer’s free agency...

#ENDTHEDROUGHT

Let’s get it going, Nets fans. #EndTheDrought.

DINWIDDIE KICKS

View this post on Instagram

There can only be one #AudienceOfOne #K8IROS

A post shared by Spencer Dinwiddie (@spencerdinwiddie) on

For a very different perspective, take a look at Sactown Royalty. They remain in shock and mourning. Their game recap is entitled “Sonnet of Despair” ... and here it is, their entire recap:

Fie unto the Kings. Woeful! Thou art shunn’d!

Up big, the Dukes of Hazard bringeth smile,

Backward passes, dunks galore, endless fun.

Halftime arrives, the Kings leadeth by miles.

Three quarters in, the Kings look mighty fine,

“Unravel the Nets,” the crowd screams aloud

The Nets hear this, the lead it doth decline,

And by quarter four the Kings disavow.

D’Angelo, dumbly shunn’d by Lakers.

Thy regicidal play doth give eyes tears,

Thy jumper bringeth curses from quakers,

Thine drives bring midnight tremors many fears,

Woe, fallen Kings! Thy playoff hope is done,

Nets One-Twenty-Three, Kings One-Twenty-One

Bravo!

***
Next up: The Nets will face the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET. D’Angelo Russell plays against his old team, or something like that.