In boxing, it’s axiomatic that “styles make fights,” and that certainly was an apt analogy for the Nets’ slugfest with the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics on Saturday night at Barclays Center.
They were coming from opposite corners of the standings, but the Nets battled the Celtics toe-to-toe to the end of a heartbreaking 87-85 loss and, just as in a real boxing match, wound up questioning the officiating.
The Celtics took the lead for good on a slam by Jayson Tatum with 1:16 left. Tatum’s corner three-pointer made it 87-83 with 45.7 seconds left after Kyrie Irving missed a shot and then tore the ball out of the hands of Nets forward DeMarre Carroll, a play that clearly upset the Nets when no whistle blew. But after a putback by Joe Harris, the Nets stopped another drive by Irving and then had four attempts at the tying basket in the final seconds that all failed.
Spencer Dinwiddie missed a layup before Harris was blocked at the rim, and the ball went out of bounds with 6.2 seconds left. After the inbounds pass, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson missed twice near the rim.
Describing that last possession, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, “We were looking for Spencer going to the rim and Rondae down the gut. We got the ball in the paint and thought we had a couple shots at the rim. It didn’t go for us . . . I know [Spencer] is frustrated. He didn’t get some calls.”
Asked about the play in which Irving ripped the ball away from Carroll and kicked to Tatum for the corner three, Atkinson said, “I put that on us. You have to understand what it takes to play that type of game. I said it was ‘extreme physicality,’ and I’ll stay with that.”
Dinwiddie addressed the officiating without using the word “referee.” In fact, the Nets got to the line 22 times compared to 15 for Boston, but the Irving play and another late whistle that put Marcus Smart at the line in the fourth quarter upset them.
“It’s becoming a trend this year,” Dinwiddie said. “As one of the leaders on the team, I can express our frustration. We’re losing guys to random contact, people are driving to the basket and getting knocked down. To see the same type of respect [given to the Celtics] not reciprocated is very frustrating for us.
“Calls are missed, but when you approach somebody and they shush you or wave you off like you’re not a man, that’s also very frustrating. To already be in a position of feeling like you’re not getting the same respect, whether true or false, it is an opinion. But time after time to be shushed like you’re not a man, those are the things that are really frustrating for guys on this team, especially in games that are so hard-fought that come down to the last second.”
Dinwiddie scored 20 points and Jahlil Okafor had 12 in just 12:39 for the Nets (15-24), who shot 6-for-31 from three-point range. Harris had 10 points and 12 rebounds, and DeMarre Carroll had 10 points before suffering a left knee injury on the final play.
Irving led the Celtics (33-10) to their sixth straight win with 21 points and Tatum had 14.
The Nets have lost three games to the Celtics by a total of 12 points this season and are showing they can play with anybody. Repeating his postgame message, Atkinson said, “If we keep it there, we’re in a good way. We’ll win a lot more games than people think. I just hope we can continue that consistency.”