Nets still just good enough to lose
Brooklyn crumbles down stretch in season opener at Detroit
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson spent most of the summer indicating that he was growing a bit weary of his team getting credit for playing hard until the final buzzer, only to lose.
“You accept and are gracious when people say your team plays hard and they play together,” said Atkinson, who witnessed 116 losses over his first two seasons here in Brooklyn, plenty of them of the “We were right there at the end” variety.
“I also think that sometimes, a lot of times, especially toward the end of the year, it puts a chip on your shoulder,” he added. “We’ve got to get over the hump. It’s just not enough.”
It wasn’t enough in loss No. 117 of the Atkinson era either as Brooklyn suffered a deflating 103-100 defeat to the Pistons in front of 20,332 fans at Detroit’s Little Caesar’s Arena.
Down three starters due to various injuries to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, DeMarre Carroll and Allen Crabbe, the Nets (0-1) appeared more than capable of pulling this one out despite their short-handed roster.
Brooklyn ran out to an early 12-point lead, trailed by as many as 13 and had the game within its grasp in the closing minutes, only to once again fall just a bit short as Joe Harris’ desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced harmlessly off the boards and into the waiting hands of Pistons star Blake Griffin.
“I thought the third quarter, that’s where we kind of lost it,” admitted Atkinson. “We turned the ball over a bunch, they got out and ran, and that’s where they got their separation.”
Caris LeVert made the most of his opportunity in the starting lineup for Brooklyn, pouring in a game-high 27 points to go with four rebounds, four assists, a steal and a blocked shot.
With just under five minutes to play, LeVert hit a clutch eight-foot jumper then fed second-year center Jarrett Allen for a layup that gave the Nets a 94-93 advantage with 3:50 remaining.
But Brooklyn’s bugaboos from a season ago, namely poor rebounding, ill-timed turnovers and bad defense, got the best of them once again in crunch time.
Pistons center Andre Drummond, playing with five fouls, somehow sandwiched a pair of easy put-backs off offensive rebounds around Griffin’s driving layup as Detroit went in front for good, 99-94.
Brooklyn surged back into contention as Harris nearly made up for a poor shooting night by making a layup and draining a 28-footer to draw the Nets within 101-100.
But with eight seconds to go, LeVert got smothered under the basket and never released a shot, instead turning the ball over out of bounds before Reggie Jackson hit a pair of free throws to cap the scoring.
“There were too many bodies in the lane, and I should have backed it out and got us a better look,” LeVert told the Associated Press of the game-deciding play.
“I needed to slow down, but I gave them a chance to knock the ball away.”
Harris, who finished 1-of-7 from beyond the arc during an ugly 5-for-27 3-point shooting performance by the Nets, did have a slim opportunity to send the game into overtime. But his final flail was well off the mark as Griffin picked up the rebound and ran out the clock.
“We had our opportunities with some open shots that didn’t go down,” lamented Atkinson, who insisted throughout training camp and the exhibition season that his team could no longer settle for a pat on the back after a hard-fought loss
“We had our chances,” he added. “That’s all you can ask for on the road. Tough team. Just didn’t close it out.”
Spencer Dinwiddie scored 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting and Allen finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds for Brooklyn, which lost the battle on the boards, 46-39, and committed 17 turnovers.
Griffin scored 26 points and Drummond dominated along the interior, finishing with 24 points and 20 rebounds, including nine off the offensive glass, where Allen appeared to be fighting both Detroit big men by himself.
“I can’t be the only one rebounding down there,” said Allen, who would have benefitted greatly from having either Carroll or Hollis-Jefferson (by his side to fight off Griffin (eight rebounds) and Drummond.
D’Angelo Russell, a restricted free agent following this season, sat out the entire fourth quarter for Brooklyn after managing eight points on 3-of-9 shooting in 25 lackluster minutes.
Crabbe, who is nursing a bad ankle, could be back in the lineup for Friday night’s home opener against the arch rival New York Knicks and Hollis-Jefferson (abductor strain) is also hopeful to play in front of what should be a sell-out crowd at Barclays Center.
But Carroll, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle Tuesday, isn’t expected back anytime soon as the Nets have not yet issued any sort of timetable for his return to the lineup.
Nothing But Net: The Nets scored all but 11 of their first 37 points in the paint, but instead of continuing that attack they launched 13 3-pointers in the first half, making only three. … Following their home opener, the Nets will hit the road for a three-game swing through Indiana (Saturday), Cleveland (Wednesday) and New Orleans (Oct. 26) before returning home Oct. 28 to host the defending two-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
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