The Nets had to stop worrying about sticking to their plan and start fixing what was broken. They took a step towards that Friday night.
No, make that a quantum leap.
Kenny Atkinson changed his pregame routine, tweaked his tactics and switched his starters. The players did some soul-searching. After all that, they came out and dominated the Spurs 139-121 at Barclays Center before a delirious crowd — including the greatest Net of all.
Hall of Famer Julius Erving — who led the franchise to a pair of ABA crowns — was seated courtside, taking in a Nets game in Brooklyn for the first time. They made sure to put on a show Dr. J could be proud of.
The Nets bounced back from their most humbling loss of the season with arguably their most-needed performance of the year. After getting drilled 118-79 in their own building Wednesday by the Grizzlies, Friday’s performance was every bit as encouraging as that one was disturbing.
The Nets’ ball movement dissected the Spurs’ defense, their drive-and-kick game producing 32 assists and just eight turnovers. Their 41-point third quarter was a team record, as were their 120 points going into the fourth. The final period was cruise-control to the finish line, finishing with their highest-scoring effort of the season.
They didn’t need Caris LeVert to be as dominant as he was Tuesday in Boston, when he poured in a career-high 51. He was more sublime this time, with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He sealed his first career triple-double on a pinpoint feed to Jarrett Allen for a cutting layup that made it 130-110 with 5:01 left.
“We don’t like losing at home. … We were locked in defensively,” said LeVert, adding of his triple-double, “Honestly it’s like a team award.”
LeVert joined Kyrie Irving, Vince Carter and Stephon Marbury as the only Nets with a 50-point game and a triple-double, but he had both in the span of four days.
And LeVert wasn’t alone, with eight Nets in double-figures, including Joe Harris (20 points) and Spencer Dinwiddie (19). Taurean Prince added 13, coming off the bench for the first time all season.
The Nets led by as many as 33 points and rolled to an easy win.
It came following a host of changes by Atkinson, whose Nets had lost six of eight since the All-Star break.
“You just think about tweaking, there’s no doubt about it. You do think about it,” Atkinson said. “I do think we’ve done that in the past. There comes a point it’s like man let’s try something different. So we’re getting close to that point. We could do something like that, whether it’s lineup or tactically, definitely within the realm of possibility.”
He put them through their paces in a long, tough practice in Los Angeles, and they followed that with a huge win Tuesday at Boston. After getting mauled Wednesday on the second night of a back-to-back, he opted to have a shootaround Friday morning, something the Nets never do.
“[The shootaround] is on the plan, we just end up canceling a lot of them to save legs. But I felt like it was needed,” Atkinson said. “I wanted to get the group together. I think that’s important after a bad loss. It was just those guys doing shooting games — we call it ‘shell’ — tose type of things. I felt it was good to get the group together.”
Atkinson opted to start Wilson Chandler at power forward, and it worked. The Nets roared out of the gate.
Harris hit a 3-pointer with 4:24 left in the first quarter to put the Nets ahead 29-8.
They eventually padded that to as many as 33, and it never got closer than 15 after that.