The Nets clinched their second straight playoff berth. And they didn’t back in or fall in, but won their way in with a 119-106 bounceback against Sacramento.
After Wednesday’s desultory loss to Boston, the Nets took the court at ESPN Wide World of Sport in Orlando knowing a Wizards loss would seal their postseason bid. But they took care of business on their own with an impressive victory over the Kings.
“Huge amount of grit and togetherness shown to respond from a disappointing outing and answer the way we did,” said Jacque Vaughn, now 5-2 as interim coach. “It’s great to punch your own ticket into the playoffs. I joked with the guys: I like my laundry being done, but nothing like doing your own laundry.”
Brooklyn (33-36) moved 1 ½ games clear of Orlando for seventh in the East with just three dates left, including against the Magic on Tuesday.
And following Wednesday’s humbling 149-115 loss to the Celtics, this was a performance far more befitting a playoff-bound team.
“The coaching staff and our vets were preaching good teams don’t have two bad games in a row,” said Caris LeVert, who made sure they had a good one.
LeVert had 22 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. Joe Harris scored 21 on 5 of 7 from deep, and Jarrett Allen had 17 points, 11 boards and a career-high eight assists.
“We’ve got good veteran leadership. We’ve got guys who don’t allow you to stay down on yourself,” Tyler Johnson said. “We don’t sit around and feel bad for ourselves. It’s a telltale sign of a maturing team, because when everything goes well it’s easy for everybody to be up. But we have a couple rocky games and to turn around and play as well as we did, that feels good.”
They have much to feel good about.
On one end, Brooklyn held a Kings team that’d scored 140 points a day earlier to just 106 on 20 assists and 15 turnovers. And on the other, they Nets shot 48.8 percent with 30 assists and a clean nine turnovers — buying in, staying together and not descending into selfishness.
“It easily could go the other way,” said Vaughn, whose team is 3-2 in the restart. “This group has not given in to that.”
Bogdan Bogdanovic (game-high 27 points) helped the Kings take an early lead. Brooklyn trailed 30-24 after a Buddy Hield 3. But Chris Chiozza (14 points) capped a 14-2 run with a reverse to give the Nets a 38-32 lead that they built on the rest of the way.
LeVert’s 19 first-half points spotted Brooklyn a 63-53 lead at the break. Garrett Temple’s free throws made it 78-62 with 7:39 left in the third.
Even when the Kings ripped off a dozen unanswered points to cut the lead to 78-74, the Nets responded. Temple slowed the game, pulled Nemanja Bjelica out and drove for a layup to stanch the bleeding.
That sparked a 21-8 run to put Brooklyn ahead 99-82, and put the game away. It sealed a second straight playoff appearance, an impressive rise from the NBA’s cellar.
“The first year I was here, we were struggling. … We were somewhere down at the bottom of the standings,” Allen said. “We’ve kept climbing and climbing, and we’re finally to a point where we’re making back-to-back playoffs.”
The Nets were 20-62 in LeVert’s rookie season, and 28-54 in Allen’s debut. Now they’re headed to a second straight postseason — and should have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving next season.
“No one knew when it’d happen, if it’d happen so quickly, consistently now,” LeVert said. “But that was always the goal for sure, was to compete for a championship every year. It’s gratifying to see all the hard work pay off. We want to continue to do that, we want to make it a habit for this organization, for sure.”