‘Old’ Nets show up in road trip finale
Brooklyn both short-handed and turnover-prone in loss to Celtics
A little over a month ago, no one would have blinked if a short-handed Nets squad playing the second half of a back-to-back set at a perennial playoff contender got squashed as Brooklyn did in Boston on Monday night.
But for this suddenly postseason-hopeful squad, which entered TD Garden as one of the NBA’s hottest teams, suffering a 116-95 loss to the Celtics in front of a sellout crowd of 18,624 fans in Beantown was simply unacceptable.
“That was kind of the old Nets,” Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson noted as his team committed 25 turnovers in the finale of an otherwise successful three-game road trip.
“That was a big problem of ours last year and the beginning of this year, so we’ve done a good job with that,” Atkinson added.
The Nets, already playing without injured starters Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Allen Crabbe, were also missing sharpshooter Joe Harris and resurgent power forward DeMarre Carroll.
With five starters and five healthy players on the bench, the Nets (20-22) were unable to extend their most recent winning streak to four games, despite getting a career high-tying 24 points from rookie Rodions Kurucs and 13 points and 12 boards from Kenneth Faried.
Atkinson refused to blame the loss on the Nets’ lack of manpower and insisted that he expects more from his team following its recent turnaround, a 12-4 stretch following a dismal 8-18 start to the campaign.
“I just give [the Celtics] all the credit. I don’t think it’s a question of: ‘We have 10 guys.’ That’s enough to play in this league,” Atkinson said after Brooklyn shot a dismal 26 percent (11-of-42) from 3-point range and yielded 24 fast-break points.
“We have 10 NBA players. We just didn’t play well enough. I don’t think it was a matter of bodies.”
It may, however, have been just a matter of time before the Nets’ next-man-up mentality failed them against a Boston team that placed eight players in double figures in scoring, including a team-high 17 points from Kyrie Irving, who returned to the Celtics’ lineup after missing two games with an eye injury.
“Hindsight, maybe we could have driven some more,” lamented Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who finished with 15 points, but went 4-for-10 from the floor, including a 1-of-6 effort from beyond the arc.
“Obviously, we would have loved to make some of those looks,” he added. “I’m sure all of them weren’t bad. I haven’t watched the film, obviously. Give credit to their defense as well. I’m sure some of them they also made us rush or made us miss.”
Despite the loss, the Nets still clung to the eighth and final playoff spot in the East Tuesday morning, one game ahead of Detroit and just one game behind Miami for the sixth position.
This postseason push hardly seemed possible when Brooklyn was 10 games below .500 and in the midst of a season-high eight-game losing streak during the first week of December.
But the Nets rebounded to win seven in a row and are 5-4 since that streak ended, putting themselves in the thick of the race one game past the regular season’s midpoint.
Even if, to a man, they are not interested in looking up at the standings just yet.
“I think we’ve just got to take it game by game. Our focus right now is to beat Atlanta,” said Dinwiddie ahead of Friday night’s game against the Hawks here at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“That’s how we got here. To shift it now and try to take a, I guess, holistic outlook — ‘Hey, if we win five out of our next seven, then we’ll be in the playoffs’ — I don’t think that does us justice. Just get one percent better every day, take each game a game at a time, and beat Atlanta.”
Harris (right ankle sprain) and Carroll (sore left knee) should be available when the Nets host the Hawks in search of their fourth consecutive home victory.
“We’ve been playing at a good level,” Nets guard D’Angelo Russell said before managing just five points and a team-high six turnovers against the Celtics.
“Just keep building on it. Taking care of what we’re supposed to take care of and giving ourselves a chance when the numbers aren’t in our favor. Our confidence is high, so I don’t think anybody can tell us anything else.”
Nothing But Net: The NBA announced Monday that the league’s China Games 2019 will feature two preseason games between the Nets and Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 10 in Shanghai and Oct. 12 in Shenzhen. “It’s an honor to help celebrate basketball’s growth abroad and represent Brooklyn and the League on an international stage,” said LeVert. “The Nets have a connection to fans all over the world, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to visit China and play for our passionate Chinese fans for the very first time.” … Kurucs, who has emerged as a legitimate starter during Crabbe’s extended absence due to a knee ailment, hit his first five 3-pointers Monday to establish a new career high. Unfortunately, he missed his last three shots from long range as Brooklyn lost its touch following a strong start. “I don’t know, I just went there and shoot it,” said the 20-year-old Latvian, who was Brooklyn’s second-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. “That’s what coaches told me, just go there, don’t think about it, just shoot the ball. That’s it.” … Following their game against the Hawks here on Wednesday, the Nets will head to Toronto on Friday and host the Celtics in a return match at Barclays next Monday.