A fast start fizzled for the Brooklyn Nets as they dropped their preseason opener to the New York Knicks at Barclays Center, 107-102.
The Knicks erased Brooklyn’s 15-point first half lead, outscoring the Nets 24-6 going into halftime to take a 50-46 lead and never trailed again, even with a fourth-quarter surge from the Nets highlighted by rookie Rodions Kurucs.
Caris LeVert led six Nets players in double figures as coach Kenny Atkinson used 14 players, but the Nets had trouble with the Knicks’ Alonzo Trier (25 points) and Enes Kanter (22 points, 20 rebounds).
KURUCS GRABS OPPORTUNITY
The brightest spot for the Nets came with the performance of Kurucs, the second-round draft pick.
“I loved his energy,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “He’s a talented guy. He’s got nice length. I liked how he drove it. Showed some good things defensively. Listen, I think in training camp, we talk about Caris, but I think he’s been a little bit of a surprise. He’s a multi-position player. I think his speed is better than I thought. I was really pleased with how he played, loved his energy he came in with.”
Kurucs entered the game at the start of the fourth quarter and immediately made his presence felt with his activity on both ends of the floor. He played right to the buzzer, finishing with 13 points, four steals, four rebounds and two assists. Kurucs also displayed some sharp passing on dishes that weren’t converted into baskets.
“He showed good instincts passing the ball,” said Atkinson. “And again, maybe the thing I liked, he doesn’t have any fear. He’s barreling in there and he’s hitting guys. I just liked how aggressive he was, his overall energy. A real bright spot. I thought it really helped that third unit.”
It was a gratifying experience for Kurucs, who played sparingly for FC Barcelona during his time there. He came back from knee injuries, but once he expressed an interest in the 2017 NBA Draft before withdrawing, he found time on the court tough to come by.
“It was actually really emotional for me, because I didn’t play last year and that was a really good moment for me because I really enjoyed it,” said Kurucs. “I enjoyed every minute on the court. I just took all of it, from that moment.”
With the Nets trailing 81-71 heading into the fourth quarter, Kurucs helped them pull within a point, making two free throws to make it a 99-98 game.
“I think I bring energy,” said Kurucs. “I can help the team on defense. What coach needs I’ll do that to help my team out. I’ll do my best. I’ll give my all.”
FIRST HALF FADE
The Nets jumped out to a 26-11 lead in the first quarter behind D’Angelo Russell and LeVert, but were outscored 24-6 going into halftime as the Knicks took a 50-46 lead at the break behind Trier, a rookie guard out of Arizona on a two-way contract.
“Alonzo Trier drove the heck out of the ball,” said Atkinson. “Especially in the first half, we couldn’t keep him in front. That was collectively. Everybody got beat by him.”
Trier cooled off, but New York’s 6-foot-11, 250-pound center Enes Kanter continued to punish Brooklyn throughout, piling up 12 points and 13 rebounds at halftime and finishing with 22 point and 20 rebounds, seven on the offensive glass.
“He’s a load,” said Atkinson. “We play him the first game of the regular season we’re going to have to do a better job. I thought he caught the job too easily in the post. A guy like that that’s so good with the ball in the post, you’d better keep it from him or push him off the blocks. He caught it too deep. Then we let him get to the rim a little too much.”
FILLING THE FOUR SPOT
With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson out, Atkinson opted to start DeMarre Carroll at the four spot and putting Caris LeVert in the starting lineup. D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe and Jarrett Allen also started. That’s the lineup the Nets closed last season with, except for Hollis-Jefferson instead of LeVert.
“When Rondae’s back fully I expect Rondae to be in that position and we’ll figure out the wings after,” said Atkinson before the game. “A little bit of both. See DeMarre at the four and see how we play. I think the offense will be OK with that lineup, just are we going to be able to get stops, that’s the question, and rebound out of that lineup. It will be a good chance to look at it.”