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Entering Friday’s game against the Houston Rockets, the Brooklyn Nets had struggled to guard the three. Opponents were knocking down 41.9 percent of their triples, the second-highest mark in the league.
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson had to make a change, and he took a note seemingly out of the playbook of a college football assistant. Atkinson held up a cue card during play to remind his team — which includes 10 new players and three new starters — what to do.
“It’s just a defensive coverage we have, and we’ve had trouble communicating it to the guys in the past, so we came up with this idea,” Atkinson said after the game. “We have to find a way so everybody knows. Sometimes you have to add a little humor to things. It sinks in a little more with the guys.”
The sign wasn’t anything complicated. With a picture of former Magic sharpshooter Dennis Scott — who wears No. 3 — crossed out, Atkinson just wanted his team to guard the three better.
As ESPN’s Malika Andrews points out, teams are barred from using electronic communication from the bench, but holding up physical signs would not be illegal unless an opposing team files a complaint. Coaches hold up fingers and yell out play calls or instructions all the time; Atkinson just really wanted to reinforce his point.
“It’s a ridiculous sign, but it gets our attention and gets us to know what we need to do, so it works,” Jarrett Allen said, via the New York Post.
As it turns out, Atkinson’s sign actually worked
Atkinson didn’t take the sign out until there was less than a minute left in regulation, but it worked as hoped: The Nets were leading by nine, didn't give up another three and won the game. Moments after whipping out the sign, James Harden clanked a three, and the rest of the Rockets' shots came from inside the arc.
Getting the Nets to play good perimeter defense wasn’t a huge ask for the team. Last season they ranked third by holding opponents to a 34.1 percent mark from three. But making sure that this team communicates well, especially down the stretch, is worth looking a little goofy.
“Especially during that seven-game losing streak last year, we had a couple of missed defensive coverages and miscommunications,” Atkinson said. “Let’s just be 100 percent sure that they know what they’re doing.”
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