Nets guard James Harden and forward Kevin Durant look on...

Nets guard James Harden and forward Kevin Durant look on late in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the LA Clippers at Barclays Center on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

On paper, the Nets should have had an easy go of it. The Clippers had been thoroughly stripped of their players, thanks to COVID-19. Even coach Tyronn Lue was hit with it.

The Nets had a full complement of players, aside from Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris. This should have been an easy one, a good one, a way to transition from some of the adversity they’ve faced.

Instead, it was a lesson in humility.

The Nets squandered a 13- point fourth-quarter lead, crumbled in their transition defense and lost to the Clippers, 120-116, on Saturday night at Barclays Center in one of their most disappointing defeats of the season.

"I just think 71 points in the second half is just unacceptable," coach Steve Nash said. "We just never really had the care factor, turned it up. We had a chance up nine, 10, 11 in the third and fourth at different times and just got what we deserved, really.

"I think these guys in there, they know it. They’re disappointed, of course, but it’s a disappointment for all of us. That was obviously a very winnable game we let get away." 

The Nets (23-11) went ahead 105-92 but were outscored 28-11 in the final 5:44. Eric Bledsoe scored 10 of his 27 points in the Clippers’ 40-point fourth quarter.

"Like Coach said, we didn’t deserve to win this game," Kevin Durant said. "We came in with a [messed] up attitude to start, thinking we were just going to walk into a W. Hopefully a loss like this will sit in your brain until tomorrow. You understand what your job is as an individual and how you be your best at your job and how you can bring it to the collective. It’s always, always about the collective. If you’re not feeling like [crap] after this game, you have to look yourself in the mirror."

James Harden fed DeAndre’ Bembry for a three-point play to give the Nets a 110-105 advantage with 3:25 remaining, but Justise Winslow’s layup with 1:03 left gave the Clippers the lead for good at 114-113. Durant missed a free throw and a three-pointer during the final 7.3 seconds.

Terance Mann and Reggie Jackson had 19 points each for the Clippers (19-18).

Harden had 34 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds for the Nets. Durant added 28 points and nine rebounds. Patty Mills (17 points) fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, significantly changing the tenor of the game.

"It was a huge absence," Durant said. "When we went out there, all they were screaming is, ‘Now they only got two shooters out there!’ Now the double-teams came in and they were just going to forget about their defensive scheme and just bring that to James and myself."

The Nets went into the fourth quarter up 87-80 and got stops on the other end to maintain their lead for the first few minutes. They went up by as many as 13 on James Johnson’s layup with 5:57 left. But then the Clippers attacked with their ad hoc collection of offensive weapons.

Harden called the deficiencies in the Nets’ response "a little bit of everything."

"They just kept attacking for the entire game and our spacing, our offensive execution wasn’t there," he said. "It wasn’t great and they capitalized . . . It’s a tough one for sure."

Durant was more blunt.

"We’re going to continue to get our [butt] kicked if we don’t approach the game in the proper way," he said. "It’s about the group. It’s about coming out here and being the best we can. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights."

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