• Erik Slater

Signature win comes at an opportune time for Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Nets earned their most impressive win of the year Wednesday night, a 145-142 overtime victory in Houston.

While the majority of media coverage will highlight James Harden‘s 58-point performance, Brooklyn’s gutsy effort sent a message throughout the league.

These are the wins that establish an identity for a team in its own eyes as well as to those around the league. The Nets are making it known that they are no longer inferior to their counterparts.

The improbable comeback win is representative of the culture that Brooklyn is developing as a franchise from top to bottom.

Rockets play-by-play announcer Bill Worrell summed it up in overtime when he said, “Boy, this team just has no quit.”

The Nets trailed by eight with just 1:09 left in regulation, but Spencer Dinwiddie would drill three consecutive three-pointers in the final 30 seconds to force overtime. Brooklyn would fall behind by seven with 1:28 left in overtime, but would once again claw all the way back.

Among the most impressive aspects of the win is that two of Brooklyn’s top performers were struggling as of late.

Dinwiddie, who scored 33 points, 25 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime, had not looked like himself in the games leading up to his heroic performance.

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson even acknowledged Dinwiddie’s struggles and later apologized for using the word “slump.”

“Maybe slump was the wrong word. I think it’s we need him to play great like he has been. He’s been excellent for us, we need excellent Spencer. That was the thinking. I think slump was the wrong word. I want him to play at a high level,” Atkinson said.

Treveon Graham had also been struggling since his return from injury. Graham played in Brooklyn’s first two games before missing the next 37 with a hamstring injury.

In his first six games after returning, Graham averaged 3.2 points per game on 18.9 percent shooting from the field and 12.5 percent shooting from three. Wednesday night Graham scored a career-high 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 shooting from three.

The VCU product made two plays in overtime that kept Brooklyn in the game. Graham nailed a 3 with 1:12 remaining to cut Houston’s lead to four.

He then grabbed an offensive rebound off of a Jarrett Allen missed free throw with 40.9 seconds remaining that would lead to the game-winning basket.

These performances by Dinwiddie and Graham in the midst of struggles against one of the best teams in the league exemplify the mental toughness that Brooklyn is building its team upon, from the veterans down to the rookies.

DeMarre Carroll continued his recent success, scoring 22 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3 in the win. The 10th-year veteran looks like the player we saw last season, averaging 16.1 points per game on 44.1 percent shooting from three over his last 10 contests.

Jarrett Allen’s performances in Brooklyn’s last two wins have been spectacular. Allen played a key role in halting a Boston comeback in Monday’s win. He continued his stellar play against Houston, scoring 20 points to go along with 24 rebounds and three blocks.

The 20-year-old rim protector has blossomed into one of the best defensive centers in the league. Allen’s development on both ends of the floor has been noticeable and a key component of Brooklyn’s success.

Several plays from Wednesday night’s win illustrate the enhanced understanding of the game Allen has clearly developed in his second season. A common offensive set Brooklyn ran with 45 seconds remaining in overtime is a great example.

Joe Harris set up in the corner and began running off a double screen from Carroll and Allen, a common set Brooklyn runs to get the shooter open. Carroll set the first screen and began to flare out to the corner.

Allen, who was setting the second screen, noticed Gerald Green, who was covering Carroll, move with Carroll toward the corner and out of help position. As Harris was approaching Allen’s screen, he saw P.J. Tucker, who was covering Allen, looking at Harris rather than himself.

All of this led the center to make the decision to slip the screen to the basket, leading to an easy layup at a crucial point in the game.

This is one of several examples of Allen’s development under Atkinson. Allen is on his way to becoming one of the top centers in the league and he’s only 20 years old.

The Nets are coming together at a crucial time.

D’Angelo Russell is playing the best basketball of his career, Dinwiddie snapped out of his funk and Graham had a breakout night against Houston, Allen is developing into a top 10 center, Carroll is hitting his stride, Harris continues to knock down threes and Rodions Kurucs looks like the steal of the draft.

Atkinson’s squad will also receive a significant boost when Caris LeVert returns from injury in the next month.

Brooklyn is .500 through 46 games for the first time since 2012-13, in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets have a huge opportunity to take a step closer to securing a playoff berth over the next two weeks. Brooklyn’s next eight games feature Orlando three times and matchups with Sacramento, New York and Chicago.

The Nets are far from a contender, but wins like this are showing opposing teams, coaches and, most importantly free agents, they deserve respect.