Coach Kenny Atkinson said the Pacers would provide a “measuring stick” of the progress his Nets had made during their seven-game winning streak, and it seemed they were on the verge of earning even more respect when they fought back from a 15-point first-quarter deficit to take a three-point lead with 3:08 to play Friday night at Barclays Center.
But the Nets were outscored 14-3 at the end of a 114-106 defeat that marked their ninth straight loss to the Pacers, and Atkinson suffered a meltdown at the end when a series of crucial calls went against his team. He drew two quick technicals from referee Tony Brothers with 1:09 left and was ejected.
Atkinson declined to specify exactly what lit his fuse, but it might have stemmed from the third quarter, when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson took a hard foul at the rim, crashed to the floor violently and did not draw a flagrant foul call. Then, with the Pacers clinging to a 106-104 lead, Jared Dudley was called for an offensive foul that led to a three-pointer by Bojan Bogdanovic for a 109-104 Pacers lead.
The Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie failed to draw a call on a drive to the rim, and that was followed by a foul called against rookie Rodions Kurucs against the Pacers’ Darren Collison. Atkinson went ballistic and had to be restrained.
“You have to earn your stripes in this league,” he said. “We really can’t worry about the referees . . . We’ve got to keep playing through it. Obviously, there was a kind of building up of emotions, but it’s part of the game. We’ve just got to be mentally stronger, and I’ve got to be mentally stronger fighting through those situations.
“I have to coach myself. I don’t love that scene out there. I’m not here to make a show. I apologize for that. That’s not who I am, but it happens in this league sometimes with the emotions and the intensity of the game.”
The Nets dug a deep first-period hole, allowing the Pacers to score 37 points, and still trailed by 10 at halftime. They got back in the game in the third period when they hit seven of eight three-pointers and grabbed an 80-76 lead. But the Pacers scored the final eight points of the period.
Rallying from five down in the fourth, the Nets grabbed a 103-100 lead on a three-pointer by Kurucs with 3:08 left, but they couldn’t contain Pacers star Victor Oladipo. He scored eight straight Indiana points for a 106-104 lead with 2:01 to play before the finishing fireworks.
Kurucs led the Nets (15-19) with a career-high 24 points, and they got 16 points from DeMarre Carroll and 15 points and nine assists from Dinwiddie. The Nets hit 16 of 31 three-point attempts (51.6 percent).
Oladipo topped the Pacers (19-12) with 26 points, including 14 in the fourth. Thaddeus Young scored 21, Domantas Sabonis added 17 and Myles Turner had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Describing the Nets’ reaction to Atkinson’s theatrics, Joe Harris said: “None of us were happy with the circumstances of what happened. It was a crucial point in the game. Obviously, he was displeased, but we play for a hard-nosed coach. He’s definitely got a little chip on his shoulder, much like the rest of us. We all know he has our back, and he showed it tonight just with the passion in the moment. He really got fired up for us.”
Atkinson said the loss was the result of defensive breakdowns rather than poor officiating. Dudley agreed but added, “It shows you the growth of this team that we still had a chance at the end.”
It was another step by the Nets toward earning respect.