On Saturday night in Charlotte, the Nets were on the wrong end of a wild 27-point swing, blowing a 19-point third-quarter lead and trailing by eight with 3:12 left. Considering they had lost six of their previous eight games and the Hornets could have tied them for sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a win, the Nets’ playoff push might have gone over a cliff.
But to hear Caris LeVert tell it, the Nets had the Hornets right where they wanted them.
Unlike last season, when the Nets repeatedly gave away games in the fourth quarter, they have learned the art of the fourth-quarter comeback, and they did it again. D’Angelo Russell scored the final 12 Nets points and 40 overall in a 117-115 win.
“I think mentally we’re just so strong,” said LeVert, who blocked Kemba Walker’s desperation shot at the buzzer. “We feel like we can win any game. I think that’s the biggest hurdle we had to get over from last year and moving forward.
“It was a [three-possession] game on the road. We felt like we were going to win the whole time. Our confidence never wavered.”
Maybe LeVert’s confidence never wavered, but the Nets’ celebration at the buzzer suggested they knew they got away with one to stay above .500 at 31-30 before facing the Spurs on Monday night at Barclays Center.
“For us to get a win tonight in the fashion that we did is huge,” Joe Harris said. Describing the Nets’ tenacity, he added, “We’re just continually talking to each other that we’re right there, we don’t want to get deterred. It’s easy to kind of hang your head at those points, but I think this whole organization is kind of built on guys being resilient. You see that with how we’re able to finish out games and close the gap when teams make runs.”
Earlier this season, the Nets struggled much the same as they had last season. They blew a seven-point lead with two minutes left in New Orleans and then, during an eight-game losing streak, blew fourth-quarter leads of 13 points against Philadelphia, seven points against Memphis (in the final 51.9 seconds of regulation) and 20 points against Oklahoma City to fall to 8-18.
But since then, the Nets have gone 23-12, including seven fourth-quarter comeback victories and just one blown three-point lead in the final minute at Toronto.
“There’s no panic,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I think we just have great chemistry. A special group. They enjoy being around each other. That sounds corny, but I think it pushes you through in a tough game like this. I think we’re led by D’Angelo, whose confidence is off the charts. I think we’re a much more confident team than we’ve been the past two seasons.”