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Late surge gives Nets big win over Rockets at Barclays, 123-114

Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

You ever hit the snooze button one too many times only to wake up just in the nick of time for work? Well, Brooklyn Nets did that tonight.

On a day where almost everyone had one eye on the game and another on the standings, the Nets were blind in both. Brooklyn seemed unaware that they were facing one of the league’s worst teams for much of the game. Although you always want to respect your opponents, you could say they played down to their visitors tonight, dancing with the 18-win Houston Rockets for far too long. On the court, they consequentially looked lost especially on the defensive end.

Spencer Dinwiddie started the game with two missed shots at the charity stripe to set the contest’s lackadaisical tone. Aside from Cameron Johnson delivering the first of his two posters on Alperen Sengun, the Nets dragged their feet through for most of the first period despite etching out a 30-25 lead.

“It’s unfortunate that I can’t seem put together a game where I make both my shots and my free throws, but that’s gotta be coming at some point,” joked Dinwiddie post-game.

A few turnovers in the second frame allowed Houston to leap ahead. Brooklyn stayed within striking distance with Johnson’s sequel slam coming with roughly three minutes to play until halftime. But just like any other team coming into a game favored by a double-digit spread, pressure began to mount for the Nets as they struggled to pull away as the game reached its latter stages.

“There’s now excuse for how we played the first 40 minutes of the game,” said Johnson after the final horn. “It’s on us to be better.”

The Nets eventually were — but it took them a bit longer to get there.

Despite being the league’s worst 3-point shooting team from a percentage standpoint, the Rockets let it fly from deep in the third quarter. The Nets, who likely saw that stat in the Houston scouting report, left the Rockets open over and over again. Naturally, the Rockets hit from deep over, and over again.

Strong sequences on both ends from Nic Claxton and Spencer Dinwiddie helped Brooklyn keep it close despite Houston’s 4-of-9 blitz from deep in the third. Cameron Johnson built on his strong first half as well.

The fourth period began with what’s been a staple in the Nets entire season despite all the ups and downs — a Royce O’Neale three. It was the first of many for the Nets, who would eventually go nuclear in the final frame to secure the victory.

The Rockets answered O’Neale’s three with a 6-0 burst to re-take a lead which they would not surrender until the game’s final few minutes. Alperen Sengun ate on the offensive glass like animal. It seemed like it was pre-determined that every missed Houston shot would find his hands — and they did.

“We tried to give him different looks,” Vaughn said post game while speaking on Sengun. “He’s a very crafty newcomer to the game. He was strong, he was persistent, and we gave up too many offensive rebounds tonight for sure.”

Regardless, Brooklyn started scratching at the lead with 5:17 to go. Set up by some rhythmic Brooklyn ball movement, Bridges and Johnson hit corner triples one after the other to make it a one-point game. After a Houston miss and a rare defensive rebound for the Nets, Spencer Dinwiddie hurled a full-court pass to Johnson.

But despite being Brooklyn’s hottest shooter tonight, Johnson passed on a possible layup chance and dribbled back out to the arc. He then drove back to the cylinder and drew a foul, only to have it taken away on a successful Houston challenge.

Frustration for the team and fans continued to build at that moment, as officials denied Johnson the chance to hand Brooklyn its long sought-after lead and consequentially set the crowd ablaze.

But a few minutes later, he would get his thumb back on the detonator and this time go kaboom.

With two minutes to play, the former Tar Heel hit a three to give Brooklyn a lead. Royce O’Neale then echoed with his own three soon after. Finally, Spencer Dinwiddie pulled out the dagger, stepping back from the corner and hitting another triple.

After the dust settled from the explosion, the scoreboard revealed a 119-112 Brooklyn lead with roughly 30 seconds to go. The Nets went 9-of-11 from beyond the arc in the fourth to secure the victory. Brooklyn and Houston then played the free throw game for a bit, allowing Brooklyn to walk away with a 123-114 victory.

“Our drive and kick was really good,” said Jacque Vaughn after the game. “Whether that was Spencer, Mikal, Royce, CJ, down the line, I think they create for each other. Our spacing was really good.”

The tech guy with a jumper also tallied double digit assists for the seventh time in his last 10 games tonight, leading the team to 33 dimes in total. That mark is tied for the second most by the Nets in a game this season.

“Settling into my role with this group, understanding what we need in terms of getting in the paint, and trying to get guys going, it’s a process,” said Dinwiddie when asked about his passing tonight. “We’re all learning each other. Being kind of an older guy, you want to read the game.”

“I didn’t know [we’d right the ship], but I was hoping,” Vaughn said. “We waited a long time to really dive into how we wanted to play.”

Johnson finished with 31 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

He also gave the Barclays crowd an assist post-game.

“We feed off the crowd. The crowd’s been great my time here, we just want to keep it rolling.”

With the New York Knicks taking down the Miami Heat across the river, the Nets now own a one game advantage over the boys from South Beach with six games to go. More below...

Dinwiddie greets the Tsais

Joe and Clara Wu Tsai were at the Barclays Center for the first time in a while and Spencer Dinwiddie made it a point to give Clara a big hug post-game.

“You want the ownership group always to be bought into your team and be fully there for any resource that anybody may need,” Dinwiddie said. “In terms of trying to win a playoff series or a championship in the future and all that other stuff, you are going to need them on your side.”

Milestone Watch

  • The nine 3-pointers Brooklyn hit in the fourth quarter is a Nets record for threes in the fourth, missing only one from deep.
  • Nic Claxton (18 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) recorded his team-high 26th double-double of the season (he had five in his first three seasons combined). Claxton leads the league in points/rebounds double-doubles among players 23 years old and under this season.
  • This is the third 30-point game of Cam Johnson’s career (second this month):

38 points - with Phoenix - March 4, 2022 vs. New York

33 points - with Brooklyn - March 1, 2023 at New York

31 points - with Brooklyn - tonight vs. Houston

  • Mikal Bridges continues to solidify his hold on the the NBA minutes category. After playing 40 minutes tonight, Bridges now has played 2,774, ahead of Julius Randle 2,738. Randle, however, sustained an ankle injury and had to leave the game. Bridges led the NBA in minutes last season with 2,854.

Standings Watch

The Nets are now 41-35 for the season, which guarantees them a .500 record for the third straight season and at least a place in the play-in tournament. With the Knicks win over the Heat at MSG. the Nets are now the sixth seed, 1 12 games ahead of Miami and 2 12 behind the Knicks who are the five seed. Brooklyn holds the tiebreaker over Miami while New York holds the tiebreaker over Brooklyn.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next?

Brooklyn will continue at home Friday vs. the Hawks and Trae Young at 7:30 p.m. ET

For a different perspective on the Nets win, head on over to Dream Shake, our sister site on SB Nation.