For the second time in two meetings with the 76ers over a five-day span, the Nets had a lead melt away when they once again failed to close down the stretch. They scored only 20 fourth-quarter points in a 117-111 loss to the Sixers, who got a triple-double performance from Ben Simmons on Martin Luther King Day Monday afternoon at Barclays Center.
The Nets had a 89-79 lead with 3:11 left in the third quarter turn into a 105-96 deficit with 6:14 left in the game. They shot 3-for-8 over that span with nine turnovers that fueled the 76ers’ charge to the lead. Simmons scored 15 of his 34 points in that extended 26-7 run.
The Nets turned the tables with eight straight points, the last six by Caris LeVert, to cut their deficit to 105-104 with 4:03 to go. Now it was the Sixers’ turn to go cold as they missed eight straight shots before 76ers big man Al Horford buried a three-pointer at the 1:22 mark for a 108-104 cushion. A three by Furkan Korkmaz gave the 76ers a 113-108 lead with 23.4 seconds left.
Spencer Dinwiddie buried a deep three from the left wing with 19.9 seconds showing to make it a two-point game. Finally, the Sixers escaped by making four late foul shots.
“Kind of the same thing happened in Philly,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, referring to an 11-point loss in Philadelphia that ended with a 17-5 Sixers run. “They turned up their pressure, and we didn’t handle the pressure like we needed to. I thought their length and athleticism and their aggressiveness defensively . . . They just became more aggressive, and we couldn’t handle it.”
Dinwiddie led the Nets (18-24) with 22 points but shot only 6-for-17. Jarrett Allen had 13 points and 13 rebounds and Taurean Prince had 12 points and 12 rebounds in he loss. Simmons paced the 76ers (29-16) with 12 rebounds, 12 assists and five steals in addition to his scoring, and Horford had 19 points.
The Nets, losers of four straight, committed 22 turnovers leading to 18 points by the 76ers. Things snowballed when Simmons moved to center late and got downhill to the rim in the pick-and-roll when the Sixers took control late.
“I thought the zone helped us a little bit with that, but he really made a big effort to get downhill, got to the rim and obviously made his free throws,” Atkinson said of Simmons, a 54.7 percent foul shooter, was 10-for-14 at the line. “We put him on the line 14 times. You would say that’s not a bad thing if you look at the percentages. But he definitely got into our paint and definitely got downhill. He played an unbelievable game, great game.”
The Nets were without Kyrie Irving, who sat out with right hamstring tightness. It was diagnosed on Sunday and didn’t improve sufficiently by game time.
“We looked at him yesterday,” Atkinson said. “We knew there were some issues, and then we tested it again this morning and decided collectively to not play him tonight . . . Don’t want to lose him long-term, so, that’s the plan.”
Rookie backup center Nic Claxton scored 13 of his career-high 15 points in the first half as the Nets took a 68-64 lead. Late in the third period, back-to-back threes by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and LeVert, who had 16 points and six assists, pushed the Nets’ lead back to 89-79. But that’s where things unraveled.
Describing the Nets’ letdown at the end, Allen identified a lack of intensity along with the turnovers. “I think we could have brought it to another level,” Allen said. “I think they did outmatch us in terms of intensity in the fourth quarter. I think we messed up that part.”