The Nets were playing their third game in four nights and fourth in six nights, and it showed in a ragged performance Monday night at Madison Square Garden. They were beaten soundly, 115-96, by fatigue and a Knicks team that has battered them regularly during the past two seasons.
The Nets’ starters scored only 35 points as Jared Dudley went scoreless and Caris LeVert managed just four points on 2-for-11 shooting. Their recent hot hand from three-point range was doused by a 29.7 percent performance (11-for-38), and they got pounded on the boards 53-32. Spencer Dinwiddie led the Nets (2-5) with 17 points.
Seven Knicks scored in double figures, led by 25 from Tim Hardaway Jr.
Trailing by eight at halftime, the Nets allowed the Knicks to score the first nine points of the third quarter, highlighted by a play on which LeVert passed directly to 7-1 Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson, who drove the length of the court for a monster slam.
Poor shooting and more Nets turnovers helped the Knicks push their lead to 75-50 midway through the third quarter, and the Nets never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson didn’t want to hear any excuses about lack of energy so early in the season.
“Obviously, in the third quarter, they started out hot,” Atkinson said of the Knicks. “For some reason, we were not ready to play. This is [game 7], not game 74. We should have been more ready. The Knicks were more aggressive and more physical. That was the story.”
Atkinson admitted fatigue might “have played into” the fact that his starters failed to produce after playing so well against the Pelicans and Warriors. In those games, the apparent developing chemistry between D’Angelo Russell and LeVert gave cause for encouragement. Against the Warriors, Russell had 25 points, LeVert had 23 and they helped cut a 19-point deficit to two with 1:55 left.
“I just like how they’re sharing amongst each other,” Atkinson said after that game. “I sound like a proud parent. They’re kind of figuring out how they can share the ball.”
LeVert was a revelation in the early going, reinforcing preseason predictions that he is poised to take a major step forward. He came into the Knicks game as the Nets’ leading scorer with a 21.3 average, but it looked as if he had nothing in the tank — shooting 0-for-6 from three-point range — and it had a profound impact.
“The next level of becoming a great player in this league is to do it consistently,” Atkinson said. “He’s done it for most of the season, but he had a tough game tonight. We need him to be not good, but very, very good. But I also think tonight was one of those nights where someone else has to step up.”
LeVert said the Nets’ low store of energy might have led to poor execution.
As for the difficulty of handling his new leadership role, LeVert said, “It’s definitely an adjustment for me, but the great thing about the NBA is that it’s not like football, where you have to wait a full week and think about it every single day. We play again Wednesday against a good team [Detroit] that has been playing well. It’s another challenge to get better.”