NEW ORLEANS — The Nets were poised for a major upset of the Pelicans, but they blew a five-point lead in the final 1 minute, 49 seconds when they had five straight empty possessions, missing two three-pointers and committing three critical turnovers that helped fuel a 117-115 comeback win by New Orleans Friday night at Smoothie King Center. The icing on the cake was a technical foul on veteran Ed Davis from the bench with two seconds remaining.
A turnover by D’Angelo Russell with 7.5 seconds left on a pass intended for Caris LeVert led to the game-winning basket by Jrue Holiday for a 116-115 lead with three seconds left. Then Holiday hit the technical foul with two seconds left after Davis was called for shoving Pelican Solomon Hill away from the Nets’ huddle. Finally, a turnover by Joe Harris on the ensuing inbounds pass sealed a collapse that looked like so many the Nets suffered last season.
“It’s a shame,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We played a heck of a game. We didn’t close it out. We’ll learn from this.”
Russell, who led the Nets (2-3) with 24 points, including 6-for-9 three-point shooting, was beside himself after the game. The Nets were running out the clock by throwing the ball around with a one-point lead when his pass caught LeVert flat-footed and unable to move.
“It was all my fault,” Russell said. “We focused for 47 minutes and 36 seconds. In the other 24, I wasn’t focused. I’ve got to be better.”
LeVert said it was a simple miscommunication. “It hurts,” LeVert said of the loss. “At the end of the day, we’ll grow from this. We made all the right plays to beat them . . . It’s tough. That would have been a great win to get.”
LeVert had 21 points and Shabazz Napier added 16. The Nets shot 47.5 percent from three-point range (19-for-40). Holiday led the Pelicans (4-0) with 26 points, Anthony Davis had 18 plus 14 rebounds and five blocked shots but was held to 6-for-19 shooting. Elfrid Payton added 17 points.
Napier scored the first seven Nets points of the final period as they pushed their lead to 98-93, but the Pelicans came back to tie it at 101 on a three-pointer by E’Twaun Moore with 5:44 left. Russell responded with his sixth three-pointer of the game, and the Nets’ lead reached 111-104 on a corner three by Jared Dudley with 3:31 left. The lead still was seven points when LeVert hit a turnaround in the lane with 2:04 left, but that would be the Nets’ last score.
Missed threes by Russell and LeVert sandwiched a turnover by Jarrett Allen as the Pelicans drew within three on a pair of foul shots by Nikola Mirotic. Holiday hit another pair with 21.9 seconds remaining to cut the Nets’ lead to 115-114.
Then came Russell’s ill-fated pass. “The turnovers haunt you,” Atkinson said. “They were fundamental turnovers. We’ve got to learn to handle their pressure and physicality. They were trapping us. You keep moving it. It’s young players. They can grow and learn.”
Holiday’s 17-foot pull-up jumper elated the crowd, and then, as the Nets were plotting a final inbounds play, Davis pushed Hill when he approached the Nets’ huddle.
“It was a dumb play by me,” said Davis, who had 11 rebounds. “I entertained the clown, and that’s what happens. I don’t think it should have been a tech, but I put it in the refs’ hands and they made their call. The clown won the battle."
The nail in the coffin was one final turnover by Harris when the Pelicans’ Davis intercepted his inbounds attempt.
“To lose like that,” Russell said, “the pain is going to be even more.”