DETROIT — After a slow start on the offensive end, Kyrie Irving led a furious comeback by the Nets with 14 fourth-quarter points on his way to a triple-double, but it wasn’t enough to regain control of a game the Nets carelessly allowed to get away in a 113-109 loss to the Pistons Saturday night at Little Caesars Arena.
The Nets dug themselves out of a 12-point first-quarter hole to build a 14-point third- quarter lead and looked as if they were in complete control against a Detroit team playing without injured starters Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose. But the Pistons put together an extended 39-12 run from midway in the third period until 8:39 was left in the fourth period, when Tony Snell hit a three-pointer for a 91-78 Detroit lead.
“We were up , and we couldn’t extend the lead,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We’re doing it in stretches, playing well in stretches, but not for long enough. In little short spurts we’re good, and we’re just not extending it to a full game. Again, 32 and 35 points in the third and fourth quarters, that’s just too many points. For some reason, we ran out of gas in the second half, and I’m not sure why.”
Irving, who had only six points through the first three quarters, finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He led a 16-8 surge that cut the Pistons’ lead to 99-94. Irving had eight points and two assists in that span.
The Nets cut their deficit to 105-103 when Joe Harris buried a three-pointer from the top of the arc with 1:33 to go. Then Irving hit a pair of foul shots with 41.6 seconds left to cut the margin to one at 106-105. But the Nets couldn’t regain the lead as the teams traded free throws in the final seconds.
Irving suggested the Nets got too comfortable as they let the lead slip with turnovers, and they didn’t match the Pistons’ physicality. “You’ve got to be able to battle back, got to be able to have sense of resiliency and execute at a certain level,” Irving said.
“We’re getting at that point. Certain spurts in the game, I feel like we can have just a little bit more consistency, and also it’s me keeping my foot on the gas pedal, staying offensively aggressive and then, defensively, just being in the right spot.”
Besides Irving’s triple-double, the Nets (2-4) got 20 points from Taurean Prince, 18 from Harris and 16 from Spencer Dinwiddie. DeAndre Jordan had 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Drummond led the Pistons (3-4) with 25 points, 20 rebounds, six assists and five blocks. They got 24 points from Luke Kennard and 22 from Bobby Brown, a G League veteran who started at point guard.
Considering all the top-end talent the Pistons were missing, it was an opportunity wasted by the Nets, who still are grappling with all the personnel changes they made during the offseason and struggling on the defensive end. “We need to put four quarters together,” Harris said. “We’re good in bursts, but we were all over the place, digging out of a hole early and digging out of a hole late.”
After signing Irving, Kevin Durant and Jordan in free agency, a 2-4 start is a letdown. Irving said the Nets must learn how to play with a target on their backs.
“Players are going to get up to play against us,” Irving said. “I’m used to it at this point. You know, guys having unbelievable games and then they kind of tail off after they play us. It just takes time to get into that frame of thinking every time you’re playing.”