PHILADELPHIA — With the Nets holding a one-point lead with 5:19 to play, coach Kenny Atkinson inserted Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert to play alongside Spencer Dinwiddie, but that trial run went awry when Tobias Harris scored 11 points in a 16-5 finishing kick that gave the 76ers a 117-106 victory over the Nets Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center.
After spending all of the third quarter protecting a lead that never exceeded seven points, the Nets moved to the fourth quarter, where their leads so often go to die. A brief 8-0 burst early in the period, ending with consecutive three-pointers by Furkan Korkmaz was all it took to give the 76ers a 94-92 lead with 9:24 left to play.
But five straight points by Taurean Prince restored a 101-100 Nets lead at 5:19, and that’s where Atkinson went to his closers with high hopes. There were three more lead changes and one tie, but when Dix Hills native Harris buried a three-pointer for a 109-104 76ers lead with 2:19 remaining, it felt like the dagger.
Asked about his three-guard lineup, Atkinson grimaced and said, “It wasn’t jelling, I have to admit. We got Joe [Harris] back in there for Caris [at the 3:18 mark]. It will be game to game. It’s a feel. They were good the night before [against the Jazz]. It’s something we have to look at.”
The hope was that those three high-scoring guards might be the answer for fourth-quarter scoring woes that have plagued the Nets all season, but the 76ers won the fourth quarter, 31-16, and the Nets made only two field goals in the last five minutes
“It’s been an issue for us all year, not being able to score efficiently in the fourth quarter,” Atkinson said. “It’s disappointing when you don’t close the game. Sixteen points in the fourth quarter. It was miss, miss, miss, and they’re running back at you. We have things to work on the next two days.”
Dinwiddie topped the Nets (18-22) with 26 points and eight assists, center Jarrett Allen added 17 points and 10 rebounds and Prince had 15 points. Irving scored 14 on rough 6-for-21 shooting and LeVert finished with 12 points. The Nets were a miserable 18-for-30 at the foul line, and they lost backup center DeAndre Jordan, who dislocated the middle finger of his right hand, in the third period.
Harris led the 76ers (26-16) with 34 points and 10 rebounds, and Ben Simmons added 20 points and 11 assists.
Philadelphia was playing without All-Star center Joel Embiid, who is recovering from hand surgery, but their defense made things tough on the Nets, who were playing their third game in four nights. It was a huge test for Irving, who averaged 26.5 points on amazing 22-for-30 shooting in his first two games back from a shoulder injury, but admitted he was fatigued in the fourth quarter while playing 37 minutes.
“I was trying to pace myself as best I could,” Irving said. “Some of the shots I was making against [Utah] were a little short. Any team we play is going to gameplan to be physical with me and kind of corral me in the pick-and-roll. I felt that monkey was definitely on my back tonight heading into the fourth quarter, but I’ll continue to get better from there.”
For now, the Nets three-guard lineup must be considered a work in progress. “We’ve only played a few minutes,” Irving said. “I know the other day I said we need to work on this adjustment period, but at the same time we’ve got to log in those minutes. Right now, we have Joe at the three, so we’re playing between Caris and Spencer and myself. Once we figure that out, we’ll be OK.”