The Nets may have swapped out their coach, but their coach isn’t the one playing the games.
Hours after the team parted ways with Steve Nash, putting in place interim coach Jacque Vaughn, the Nets suffered a fourth-quarter collapse, losing to the Bulls, 108-99, at Barclays Center, dropping them to 2-6.
The Nets, who squandered a 24-point lead the day before but held on, squandered a 12-point third-quarter lead Tuesday and faltered, as Zach LaVine took off for 20 of his 29 points in a fourth quarter where the Bulls outscored the Nets, 31-19. The Bulls held the embattled Kyrie Irving to 0-for-7 with no points in the first three quarters before Irving finished with four.
“The message I told the guys afterwards is no excuses,” Vaughn said when asked of the week’s volatility, headlined by the continued Irving controversy “This is what we do for a living and we signed up for it.”
Kevin Durant finished with 32 points, 20 coming in the first half. Royce O’Neal matched a career high with 20 points. The Nets committed four of their 17 turnovers in the fourth quarter, and allowed 24 points on turnovers.
“Every night I’m guarded by five players, so I’m going to turn the ball over,” said Durant, who had six. “I’m trying to be aggressive and trying to create stuff. The whole team is going to guard me throughout the whole season, so get used to the turnovers.”
Alex Caruso hit a three with 7:52 left to give the Bulls an 89-88 lead as part of a 17-2 run that featured back-to-back left-wing threes from LaVine. They went up by as many as 11 with 4:57 to go. LaVine kicked in another three with a little less than three minutes left to make it 106-94.
A 10-2 run early in the second quarter, capped by O’Neale’s driving layup with 7:39 left helped pace the Nets to a 58-52 lead at halftime. That, though, proved relatively short-lived, as the Bulls cobbled together a consistent attack, outscoring the Nets 25-22 in the third quarter and drawing to within 80-77 on DeMar DeRozan’s fadeaway jumper with time expiring in the frame. LaVine scored four straight points to open the fourth, leading the Bulls on an 8-0 run and their first lead since late in the first quarter.
Irving’s baseline layup with 10:20 left were his first points of the game, and helped the Nets briefly reclaim the lead, but that wasn’t nearly enough to quash an electric LaVine.
“He was making shots,” Joe Harris said of LaVine. “He was getting downhill on different plays to get to the line and we just collectively didn’t do a good enough job defensively to close out the game.”