BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Nets played with heavy hearts, returning back home for the first time since Kobe Bryant as well as his daughter Gianna, died along with seven other passengers in a helicopter crash Sunday.
At the end of 48 minutes, the Nets (20-26) took down the Pistons (17-32), 125-115, Wednesday night at Barclays Center. It was an emotional but ultimately rewarding experience beginning with a video tribute to the fallen superstar.
During the tribute, the crowd was quiet. Tears rolled down Kyrie Irving’s cheek as a spotlight found gold-and-purple flowers on the seats where Kobe and GiGi sat during a game against the Hawks in December. The video of that night went viral then and again after the deaths of the two was confirmed.
It was heartbreaking. You could feel the pain, and it’ll take a while before it goes away. But the game had to go on and the Nets prevailed behind the lead of the two guys who have taken Kobe’s death particularly hard: Spencer Dinwiddie and Irving.
The two were on the same page throughout the night, something we haven’t seen much fo this season. Dinwiddie finished with 28 points — 11 in the fourth quarter. He scored 10 points in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, leading the Nets on a 12-2 run to start the quarter. At that point, they led 111-97. Andre Drummond missed 3-of-4 free throws, which enabled the Nets to build on the lead.
The difference between the two teams was increasingly evident as the game wore on. The Nets had leadership; the Pistons did not.
The game wasn’t just a the catharsis. It was crucial. The Pistons entered Wednesday trailing the eight-seed Nets by only 3.5 games. Chicago, who will make their way to Brooklyn Friday, trails Brooklyn by two games.
Irving didn’t do anything crazy. He didn’t go off for 60 or anything like that, but he did everything to help the Nets get a win. He finished with 20 on the night — 11 coming in the third quarter, where he kept the Nets afloat.
Midway through the fourth as the Nets built their lead, Kyrie found a wide-open Taurean Prince in the corner for a three. Prince missed, but Irving followed up with an offensive rebound and put-back to go up 115-100. The last time these two teams played, he dropped 45 points. This time, things were more subtle.
Prince was magnificent in his role, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds on 8-of-15 shooting, four 3-pointers, the ideal complement to Dinwiddie and Irving.
And for the second time, Jarrett Allen dominated a player who had dominated him in the past. Allen finished with 12 points, six rebounds and four blocks, each more impressive than the other. He also held Andre Drummond to 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Allen finished with a +12, Drummond a -17.
This game could’ve gotten ugly but the Nets put a band-aid on it — or should I say stitches on the bleeding. Garrett Temple left the game in the second quarter to get stitches. He later returned.
The point: The Nets recovered from a lackluster first half, then pulled it together. They finished out the first half on a 19-9 run and led by two at half. They extended it to a 31-13 run in the third, taking a 10-point lead — six-point lead by the end of the third.
Kyrie Irving points to the heavens when he’s subbed out. Hugs Spencer Dinwiddie and Kenny Atkinson. pic.twitter.com/08n1heXGZs— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) January 30, 2020
This one was special. There are simply no words that will articulate the mood in the building, and how it felt watching the tribute, then Kyrie and Dinwiddie walking off and pointing towards the heavens.
Kenny Atkinson tried.
“That was a unique situation. I’m not a psychologist obviously, [but] we were in a state of shock. That’s what it was,” said Kenny Atkinson. “It hit so quickly in the environment we’re in and getting ready for a game, it was just a surreal kind of moment. … Garrett Temple said it, that just to get back to playing was almost like a relief.”
“I think [Irving] just liked getting back to work. That’s what it seemed to me. Practiced really hard, practiced really well. He was into it. More quiet than usual,” Atkinson added.
Like they say, legends never die.
DINWIDDIE CHANGES NUMBER TO 26
When Spencer Dinwiddie was not included among the 2020 All-Star Game starters, Kobe Bryant told him, “You’re an All-Star in my book.”
Those words stuck with Dinwiddie, an L.A. native who grew up idolizing Kobe. As a kid he would would tell people, “I’m gonna be the next Kobe!”
On Tuesday, Dinwiddie announced that he, among many other players around the NBA, would informally retire his no. 8 worn the past 3 seasons in Brooklyn. Like the number 8, he’ll wear no. 26 for family, “Because of Kobe.”
I spoke with Dinwiddie and he explained why he chose the number 26:
“I kept coming to that number (26), but here’s why... They passed on the 26th. 24 and 2 are their numbers; 2+ 6 is 8. I’m 26 currently. Me and my son were both born in April. He’s the 20th, I’m the 6th. And that’s what was on my mind when I decided the jersey change. Incorporating my son. Because last time it revolved around family as well.”
“When I decided on 8, [I was] the 8th pick in the second round; It’s my grandma and little brothers birthday; I signed with Brooklyn on December 8th...And finally, because of Kobe.”
All because of Kobe. Dinwiddie wasthe first player to retire his own number because of Kobe Bryant. Terrence Ross followed suit. By the end of Wednesday night, the number of players who had changed numbers had reached 11.
Because of Kobe and Spencer.
At the end, the two men embraced as they walked off the court, the win assured, the relationship enhanced, the promise kept.
This hit hard. Rest in peace, Kobe, GiGi and all the other people killed. The Nets did it their way, placing gold and purple flowers on the seats where Kobe and GiGi sat back on December 21.
This was a tremendous tribute to Kobe, GiGi and the rest of the victims.— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) January 30, 2020
The Brooklyn way. pic.twitter.com/lLF1dQUxDL
After the game, Cassidy Hubbarth of ESPN spoke with Irving about the loss of his friend and revealed that he had worked with Gigi as well as her friends at the Mamba Academy last summer.
For a different perspective, head on over to Detroit Bad Boys, our Pistons sister site on SB Nation.
Next up: Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center at 7:30 p.m.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 125, Detroit Pistons 115 - NBA.com
- Recap: Brooklyn Nets 125, Detroit Pistons 115 (Video) - NBA.com
- Eagle, Kustok on Nets’ second half defense (Video) - YES Network
- Dinwiddie discusses emotional win (Video) - YES Network
- Atkinson breaks down 125-115 victory (Video) - YES Network
- Dinwiddie discusses changing number (Video) - Michael Grady - YES Network
- Wear Brooklyn At? (Video) - YES Network
- Atkinson on Kyrie’s return (Video) - YES Network
- Dinwiddie, emotional Irving lead Nets past Pistons, 125-115 - Brian Mahoney - AP
- Dinwiddie’s hot 4th quarter helps Nets top Pistons - Larry Fleisher - Reuters
- Kyrie Irving, Nets whip Pistons after honoring Kobe Bryant - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets remember Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s last visit to Barclays Center - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Emotional night for Irving, Nets - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Inspired play a tribute to Kobe in Nets’ victory - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Nets’ Kyrie Irving reflects on Kobe Bryant’s impact: ‘He was able to just give me some direction when I needed it most’ - Alex Smith & Ian Begley - SNY
- ‘I’m going to continue to carry the torch’: An emotional return to the court for Kyrie Irving as he grieves Kobe Bryant - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic New York
- NETS 125, PISTONS 115: SPENCER DINWIDDIE SCORES 28 TO LEAD BROOKLYN - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets
- GALLERY: NETS VS. PISTONS - Brooklyn Nets
- NETS VS. PISTONS: JARRETT ALLEN, TAUREAN PRINCE, AND KENNY ATKINSON TOP QUOTES - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets
- KOBE BRYANT’S PRAISE MEANT EVERYTHING TO SPENCER DINWIDDIE - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets
- ‘We have to figure it out’: Nets hand Pistons fifth loss in six games - Rod Beard - Detroit News