That powerful Nets juggernaut that opened the season with two blowout wins and looked like an NBA title contender with superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leading the way apparently needs more time to build some chemistry. The Nets lost their rematch against the Hawks, 114-96, on Friday night at Barclays Center, falling for the third time in the past four games.
In their first meeting on Wednesday, the Nets came back from 16 points down to pull out a 145-141 win over the Hawks, thanks to a combined 33 points from Irving and Durant in the fourth quarter. But that magic was nowhere to be found two days later.
This time the Hawks pushed their lead to 20 on a three-pointer by Kevin Huerter with 8:32 left, and even though coach Steve Nash featured a lineup that included Caris LeVert with Durant and Irving down the stretch, the Nets (3-3) were unable to generate consistent offense.
Durant led the Nets with 28 points and added eight rebounds. Irving had 18 points and a team-high 11 rebounds but shot 6-for-21. Joe Harris added 12 points. The Nets shot 18.9% from three-point range (7-for-37).
Six players scored in double figures for the Hawks (4-1), topped by 23 from DeAndre Hunter, 21 from Trae Young and 20 from John Collins.
Although the Nets’ defense improved overall from the first game against the Hawks, it was not enough to keep them close when they were so cold from three-point range.
"Obviously, getting them from 141 to 114 isn’t a disaster, but we do need a lot of work there," Nash said of his defense. "We didn’t shoot the ball well, and it made it feel like, when they’re knocking shots down, that they scored 140 again. We’ve just got to get better.
"Honestly, we’ve got to get better offensively [too]. We were able to hang in there with our shot-making the first night, and tonight our defense overall was better but not good enough and our shot-making wasn’t there. We’ve got to clean up both sides."
The Nets tried playing more straight man defense with less switching than they did on Wednesday, and it was marginally effective. They kept it close early into the second period, when their deficit was just two points. But with Irving and Durant on the bench, the Hawks went on a 17-3 run that included a pair of threes by Solomon Hill and six more points from Clint Capela at the rim to build a 48-32 lead.
Durant returned to spark an 11-2 Nets surge with five points to get within seven, but the Hawks expanded that margin to 61-52 at the halftime break.
Considering the Nets made only one of 16 three-point attempts in the opening half, they were lucky to be that close. For the second straight game, they found themselves chasing the young Hawks and trying to find some rhythm on offense.
Asked if the Hawks adjusted their defense after the loss on Wednesday, Durant said, "They made adjustments on the pick-and-roll, and they were more aggressive to the ball, especially when Ky and myself had it out top. It was smart. A lot of teams are going to do that, and we have to be ready for it."
The Nets put together a 10-2 surge that included a three-pointer by Harris — who kept his streak of consecutive games with at least one made three-pointer alive at 66 — and cut the deficit to 74-68. But the Hawks responded with a 15-3 surge.
"We can’t rely on us just making shots," Durant said. "Jeff Green said that in the locker room. We’ve got to hang our hats on defense."