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Nets barely escape ugly battle in Atlanta, 114-112

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty. In fact it was near torturous, but they got it done with a final score of 114-112, Saturday night in Atlanta. The Nets shot 38 percent from the floor and missed 21 free throws in one of the most important games of the season.

But the only thing that matters is that they got the win and are .001 behind the Pistons for the sixth seed in the NBA East. That’s one-thousandths of a point.

This is how it ended.

With 16 seconds left, Joe Harris hit one-of-two free throws and gave the Nets a two-point lead. It was Brooklyn’s 21st miss of the night on 54 attempts — the most they’ve attempted in over 10 years and the most they’ve attempted on the road in 23!

Trae Young came down off a pick and roll, shifted to the left and handed it off to Vince Carter behind the arc for the win, but Carter missed as time expired and the Nets barely escaped. The play, as Chris Carrino mentioned on the broadcast, looked awfully familiar to a game-winner Carter hit back during his Nets days.

The Nets won their third straight game and improved to 35-33 on the season, tied for the six seed in the East. They’re also 21-11 when Rodion Kurucs starts. The Hawks, meanwhile, helped their chances at the Draft and fell to 22-45.

Up two with 6:54 left, the Nets had the look of a guy who says “no worries” at the blackjack table. “I got this.”

Usually that doesn’t end well.

The Hawks took a four-point lead with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth, 105-101. Jarrett Allen came down and finished an and-one.

The Hawks went up 109-105, Allen finished on an and-one. He kept the Nets alive throughout the night, despite some horrid free throw shooting. He finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds (seven offensive).

He was also torched by John Collins, who finished the night with 33 points and 20 rebounds. He entered Saturday averaging 29.5 points against the Nets this season.

With the Nets down one and less than two minutes remaining, D’Angelo Russell knocked down a huge three-pointer to give the Nets a two-point lead, leading the Nets on a 12-4 run and four-point lead.

But it was closer than it needed to be.

It was a 113-112 Nets’ lead...

The Hawks missed a shot that would’ve given them the lead, but Collins and Allen got tied up for a jump ball. Allen won the jump, Harris hit one free throw and the rest was history. Good history for the Nets, thankfully.

Spencer Dinwiddie was arguably Brooklyn’s best player of the night with 23 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Dinwiddie surpassed Armen Gilliam (878 points in 1993-94) to set a new single-season Nets record for points scored off the bench.

Rodions Kurucs got his third straight start at the four and hit four three-pointers, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds. He’s now hit 10 three’s in the last three games and has scored in double figures four straight games, a new career-high.

D’Angelo Russell finished with 18 points and six assists, but shot just 6-of-23 from the field. To his credit, he knocked down one of the biggest shots of the game.

The Nets contained Trae Young to just 4-of-14 shooting and held the Hawks to 37 precent shooting and 17 percent from three. The defense was good. The offense? Not so much.

It was ugly.

Real ugly.

... But at this point, with a key game vs Detroit Monday, then a seven-game road trip out West, they’ll take a win any way they can get it.

Trae Young, making a late season run at Rookie of the Year, has his first triple double and the first by an Atlanta Hawks rookie, with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Since February 1, Young is averaging better than 24 points a game, roughly the same as Luka Doncic, but the Slovenian Sensation has tailed off a bit while Young is surging. Neither, though, is winning many games.

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PLAYOFF RACE

The Nets entered Saturday’s game as the seven seed in the East — two games ahead of the eight-seed Miami Heat and three games ahead of the nine-seed Orlando Magic. They were just 12 game behind Detroit for the six seed.

The won moved them closer to Detroit. The Nets are 2 12 games ahead of eight seed, Miami and 3 12 ahead of Orlando, just outside the playoffs. The Hornets lost again and are now four games back.

ATKINSON ON RODIONS KURUCS

Rodions Kurucs had another good game, his third playing the stretch 4. He finished with 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three, and six rebounds, all in 20 minutes. In his three games at the power forward, the 6’10” Latvian is averaging 15 points and shooting 10-of-16 from deep ... 62.5 percent .. while grabbing 6.3 boards.

Kenny Atkinson was asked post-game about the 21-year-old.

“I don’t know what neighborhood he grew up in Latvia, but that’s a tough neighborhood because that’s a tough dude. He might not look the part. He looks like a good-looking choir boy. He doesn’t back down from anybody and that’s Rodi from Day One.”

Kurucs has now scored in double figures in a career-high four straight games. His big play was a rim-rocking dunk on Alex Len after he went right by Vince Carter (who played his firts NBA game on February 5, 1999, Rodi’s first birthday.

Atkinson again indicated that Kurucs is his 4 but said before the game that he’d like to have Treveon Graham back, too.

“We need him back. I think it’s game-to-game. You look at tonight, and we’ve got [Hawks power forward] John Collins. We had Kevin Love last game. It’s nice to have T.G. as another body to throw at big, strong guys like that. It’s worked out so far with Rodi, but I do think we need a backup plan.”

BENCH MARKS

Spencer Dinwiddie set a new scoring record for Nets bench players Saturday, passing Armen Gilliam. With his 23 points, Dinwiddie now has 885 bench points surpassing the Gilliam’s 878 points, set in 1993-94.

Meanwhile, Ed Davis scooped up eight boards, giving him 562 rebounds off the bench this season. That moved him into second place behind Jayson Williams who had 721 in 1995-96.

LIFE IN THE BIG CITY

For the second time this year, the New York Times has focused on a young Nets staffer finding her way in New York.

In January, it was Stefania Rizzo, Nets physiotherapist, on finding a place in Brooklyn.

And on Sunday, the Times takes a look on how Ally Love, Nets MC and host, spends her Sundays.

In one way, the two are typical New Yorkers. Both came to the city from distant points on the map, Rizzo from Vancouver, Love from Miami. You know the line, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

LI NETS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS

The Long Island Nets clinched their first playoff berth in its three-year history Friday night. It came after a 17-point victory over the Maine Red Claws, Boston’s affiliate. The Nets are currently the first seed in the East and second overall in the G League.

Playoffs begin March 26.

While this might not seem like a big deal, it’s yet another sign of two things Sean Marks and co. have done extremely well: 1. Find young talent and 2. Translate culture down to the G-League. It speaks volume for everybody working in this organization and it isn’t just Marks. It’s guys like Trajan Langdon, Matt Riccardi, Will Weaver, Ryan Forehan-Kelly and Shaun Fein — Managers and coaches who have gotten these young men to buy in and think team-first before individual-first.

Congratulations to them. Will the Nets of Brooklyn be next?

NETS STASH UPDATE

For the first time this season, all three of the Nets draft stashes had double-figure scoring games in the same week.

On Monday, Juan Pablo Vaulet, playing for Penarol in the Argentine National Basketball League, scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in 21 minutes. The 6’7” small forward switched teams a few weeks ago and since then has been averaging double figures.

On Friday, Aleksandar Vezenkov, playing for Olimpiacos in the Euroleague, scored 12 points points and grabbed five rebounds in 13 minutes. The 6’9” stretch forward has been given a bigger role lately by David Blatt.

On Saturday, Isaia Cordinier, playing for the Antibes Sharks in the French league, had 14 points, six rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes, his longest stretch since undergoing double knee surgery (to cure his tendinitis) last year. He’s a 6’5” shooting guard.

Vezenkov is 23 while Vaulet and Cordinier are 22.

BRUTAL STRETCH COMING UP

The Nets will go home and face the Detroit Pistons before heading out on a 7-game, 16-day road trip. Of the next 15 games, 12 are against teams above .500. The Pistons game will certainly be the biggest of the season, but the stretch after that is going to determine who this Brooklyn Nets team really is.

DINWIDDIE’S KICKS

For a different perspective. head on over to Peachtree Hoops, our Hawks sister site on SB Nation.

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Next up: Pistons at home on Monday, 7:30 p.m.