PHILADELPHIA — As the third quarter drew to a close Sunday night at Wells Fargo Center, five straight points from Jeremy Lin gave the Nets a five-point lead that dropped to three just before the buzzer.
Ordinarily, Lin might have stayed on the floor to begin the fourth quarter, grabbed a couple of minutes of rest and finished the game.
But in his third game back from a hamstring injury that cost him nearly six weeks of the season, Lin remains on a playing-time restriction. So he sat down, and coach Kenny Atkinson started the fourth period with an all-rookie backcourt of first-round draft pick Caris LeVert and second-round pick Isaiah Whitehead.
That’s when the Nets went into a scoreless funk that lasted nearly three full minutes, and the 76ers scored 11 straight points to complete a 13-0 run that gave them an eight-point lead. When Lin returned with 6:58 left, the Nets still trailed by six.
For the third time in three appearances since Lin’s return from a hamstring injury, the Nets (7-19) engaged in a close stretch battle, and for the third time, they failed to close the deal in a 108-107 loss. They have one road win in 13 tries this season.
Asked if it felt as if his hands were tied by the restriction on Lin’s minutes, Atkinson said: “At the beginning of the fourth, we had our young guys in. That’s what we’re doing, and we want those guys to get experience. Tonight, it maybe didn’t work out, but down the road, it will work out. We’ll see when Jeremy is back full, we can get back to a more stable rotation.”
When Lin returned in the fourth quarter, he led a hard-fought comeback in which he made several extra-effort plays. Lin had six points, two steals and one clutch offensive rebound that he ripped away from 76ers star Joel Embiid and fed to Sean Kilpatrick, who missed a potential go-ahead floater in the lane with 14.8 seconds left.
The Nets had to foul and the 76ers converted their final six free throws to negate three-pointers by Bojan Bogdanovic with 5.2 seconds left and by Lin with 2.5 seconds to play. Of course, the one that stuck in Lin’s head was a potential tying three he missed with 9.9 seconds to go.
“I thought we had awesome plays,” Lin said. “I think the one I could have hit would have tied it up. We had great looks, great plays. Bogie hit one and I hit one, but I needed to hit two tonight.”
Brook Lopez led the Nets with 22 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, all team highs. Lin finished with 16 points and four assists in 22 minutes. Joe Harris had 19 points and Bogdanovic scored 14.
Embiid had a monster game for the 76ers (7-20) with 33 points and 10 rebounds. Ersan Ilyasova totaled 22 points, including four in the Sixers’ 13-0 run.
“It’s tough, and our guys are absolutely playing with heart,” Lopez said of the Nets’ frustration. “There’s no quit in us. We can’t let go of the rope.”
When it was suggested that things might improve when Lin can play his normal minutes, Lopez said, “Absolutely. I know at the beginning of the season, playing with that sort of a cap, it’s tough to get going.
“He’s doing a great job with the minutes he gets, and he takes our team to another level. It’s a good little sample of what’s to come.”
Lin said he felt good after the game but understands the restriction is for his long-term health. “It’s what we feel is best,” he said. “Yeah, it makes it a little bit harder, but I still think we are able to win with all of the factors.”