For the Nets, Sunday’s game was always going to be playoffs or possible play-in. And Brooklyn came up big behind the few stalwarts they have left.
They drove a stake through Washington’s postseason hopes, and essentially punched their own playoff ticket behind Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen.
The Nets shook off a slow start for a come-from-behind 118-110 victory over the Wizards at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., all but ensuring they’ll avoid a play-in.
LeVert had 25 of his game-high 34 points in the second half. He had 14 in the final six minutes, looking every inch the All-Star in leading the Nets to a victory and a seven-game cushion over Washington with just six games left. The Nets’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth is now down to four.
The Wizards will have to go at least 3-3 in the rest of the seeding schedule to claw within four games in the standings of either the Nets or the Magic, and thus force a play-in.
Both rosters were decimated. Washington was without John Wall, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. The Nets’ absences are legion and well-documented. They’re without eight players, including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie and Taurean Prince. But they had enough to win, and pull into a tie with Orlando for seventh in the East.
Burly Washington center Thomas Bryant ate the Nets up inside, and outside as well. The Rochester, N.Y., native had a game-high 30 points on 12-for-20 shooting, ripping down 13 rebounds while also hitting 4 of 6 from deep.
But with the Nets desperately needing the stalwart trio of LeVert, Allen and Harris, all three stepped up.
Harris had a season-high 27 points on torrid 10-for-13 shooting, and tied his season-high by going 6 of 7 from deep. Allen tied his season-high with 22 points — a perfect 10-for-10 from the stripe — and ripped down a game-high 15 rebounds.
The Nets missed 10 of their first 11 shots, and all four of their initial attempts from behind the arc. Brooklyn fell behind 11-2 right out of the gate before interim coach Jacque Vaughn finally called a timeout with just 3:57 gone.
But the Nets immediately responded with a 14-4 answer, capped by Allen’s and-one to put them ahead with 3:37 left in the first quarter.
The Nets ended the first quarter on a 19-6 run, and with a 24-21 lead. They got a lift off the bench from Rodions Kurucs and Chris Chiozza — the latter having ceded the starting point guard spot to Tyler Johnson — and went into the half tied at 54-all.
Brooklyn was undone by their own errant shooting, just 5 of 19 from 3 in the first half. Meanwhile, they saw Bryant drill four by himself, two in the final minute of the half to erase the Nets’ 54-48 Nets edge and send the teams into the locker room deadlocked.
The third was a seesaw affair.
The Nets took a 71-67 lead on Harris’ layup, but went ice-cold, missing ten of their next 11. They coughed up a 13-5 run, flipping the four-point edge to Washington on Jerome Robinson’s fadeaway with 3:03 left in the third.
They were still down 85-81 with 44.6 seconds left in the third before reeling off an 8-0 run that spanned into the fourth. Garrett Temple’s driving layup capped the run, and Chiozza hit a 3-pointer put the Nets ahead 92-87 with 10:44 to play.
The Wizards’ Scott Brooks called a timeout, and it clearly settled them. The Nets conceded a 9-0 run, much coming with no natural point guard on the floor for Brooklyn. They fell behind by four on Bryant’s free throws.
Harris’ 3 with 6:59 to play pulled the Nets into a 98-all tie, and LeVert scored the next six Nets points, controlling the action. He got the roll to put the Nets back ahead, then got Troy Brown Jr. on his hip, hung and hit to make it 104-100.
LeVert lured Robinson off his feet and into an ill-advised foul beyond the arc, hitting two of three for a 110-102 point lead with 2:23 remaining. It gave him 10 points in a 12-4 Nets run over a four-minute span, effectively putting the game away.