MIAMI — DeMarre Carroll and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have each been working themselves back into the mix for the Brooklyn Nets, seeking their rhythm and their role after having the start of their seasons delayed by injury.
Last season, Carroll and Hollis-Jefferson were Brooklyn’s forward tandem, delivering maybe the Nets’ two most consistent performances of the 2017-18 season.
It was a breakout offensively for Hollis-Jefferson, who leveraged his mid-post game and elbow looks into a cohesive attack featuring mid-range jumpers and blow-bys to the rim, while also developing into a dynamic transition finisher. He elevated his scoring to 13.9 points per game while remaining Brooklyn’s key defensive stopper and growing into the team’s second-leading rebounder with 6.8 boards per game.
Carroll, meanwhile, discovered his old form and even exceeded his career highs in points and rebounds after two injury-limited, out-of-sync seasons in Toronto.
But when the Nets opened the 2018-19 season, neither was on the court. Hollis-Jefferson missed the entire preseason schedule as he worked his way back from a summer adductor strain. With the birth of his son on opening night, he missed Brooklyn’s first three games. Carroll sat out the Nets’ final two preseason games, then had ankle surgery on the eve of the season-opener and didn’t return to action until the November 9 game in Denver.
Since each returned, they’ve been playing off the bench with the exception of Hollis-Jefferson’s start at center in place of an ill Jarrett Allen last week. Progress hasn’t always been in a straight line, but in Tuesday night’s win against the Heat, each made a major and familiar contribution as the Nets came back from down seven points to pull away to a 104-92 win.
“I thought he hit some big shots,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson of Carroll. “He got to the free throw line. He drove it and then hit I think two big threes. That was a stretch that gave us a separation. It’s good to see DeMarre healthy and back helping.”
It was a 74-67 Heat lead when Carroll hit his first 3-pointer of the game and then made two free throws to bring the Nets within two points. Those were the first of 10 points Carroll would score in the 18-4 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters and turned the game in Brooklyn’s favor.
His driving layup tied the game at 78, and after two Hollis-Jefferson free throws, he made his second three of the game for an 83-78 lead.
“I just felt like that’s a time I knew I had to be aggressive,” said Carroll. “Just in the sense of, I’ve been through it. I’ve got to be aggressive. Being a leader, I just can’t be passive. I felt it was my opportunity and I took advantage of it.”
Hollis-Jefferson has always embraced his role and his impact defensively, and earned the respect of his teammates for the work he does on that end of the floor.
“When you’ve got somebody like Rondae out there on the floor harassing their best player or their main ball-handler, that’s a plus for us,” said D’Angelo Russell. “He’s definitely capable of doing that, and I consider him a specialist, to be honest, at it.”
In this case it was Miami’s leading scorer Josh Richardson who received Hollis-Jefferson’s attention and went throughout the fourth quarter without a field goal, making just two free throws and finishing the game 6-for-20 from the field.
“I thought Rondae was huge,” said Atkinson. “Putting him on Richardson kind of changed the game a little bit. We got some athleticism, some length, some strength on him, I thought that was big.”
“My stops just drove me, made me feel a different way,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “Just being able to get those stops and being able to play possession after possession, even if we made a turnover or missed a shot, whatever the case may be, coming back and getting a stop on defense was everything.”
Hollis-Jefferson finished up plus-17 in 25 minutes and grabbed seven rebounds. And as he hounded Richardson, the Heat scored just 15 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 4-for-19 overall and 0-for-7 from 3-point range.
“I feel like we stepped it up defensively,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “We weren’t shooting that well. We just brought it defensively. Locked in. Feeling good. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. As long as we stay locked in, stay the course, everything else falls into place.”