The script is beginning to wear thin. The Nets fell into a deep first-half hole, just as they have done repeatedly during the 1-10 stretch in which they are mired. They cut a 23-point fourth-quarter deficit to nine but could get no closer in another yawner of a 114-101 loss to the Clippers on Monday night at Barclays Center.
After spending the first three quarters digging their own grave again with a lackluster defensive effort, the Nets sprang to life early in the fourth quarter when D’Angelo Russell found his rhythm and scored 10 points in a 12-2 run that cut a 23-point Clippers lead to 94-81.
The Nets narrowed the deficit to 104-95 with 4:27 left when Joe Harris hit a nifty underhanded reverse layup plus a foul shot. But the Clippers scored the next six points, including a pair of drives to the rim by Austin Rivers, to drain the Nets’ momentum.
“It’s definitely difficult right now,” Harris said of their six-game losing streak. “Nobody in here likes to lose, especially in the fashion that we have been lately. It seems like we just keep digging ourselves holes.
“You can’t beat teams in the NBA when you’re trying to overcome 20-point deficits. The other night [against New Orleans], it was 28. You just can’t fall into holes like that and expect to come back and win games. It’s kind of getting repetitive at this point.”
Russell and Harris topped the Nets (19-39) with 16 points apiece. Allen Crabbe added 15, Spencer Dinwiddie had 13 and DeMarre Carroll contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Lou Williams led the Clippers (29-26) with 20 points, and they got 17 from Rivers along with 16 points and 17 rebounds from DeAndre Jordan.
The Clippers remade themselves at the NBA trade deadline, sending Blake Griffin to Detroit and receiving Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley in return, and they steamrolled the Nets in the paint from the start. They led by as many as 17 points in the first half, which ended with the Clippers holding a 66-51 lead. That came one game after the Nets fought their way back from a 28-point third-quarter deficit against the Pelicans before losing in double overtime.
“Defensively, we couldn’t stop them,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “ . . . They really got downhill on us. Their guards were in the paint, laying it up or shooting floaters or throwing the lob . . . That was the story of the game. We couldn’t stop them.”
L.A. shot 63.6 percent in the first half and 56.5 percent for the game. The Nets shot only 30 percent on three-pointers (12-for-40), hoisting at least 40 for the third straight game. When they don’t go in, it’s not a good look, and Atkinson was questioned about his reliance on threes.
“Absolutely, we want to get threes; we want to drive to the rim and get free throws,” he said. “Last game, we shot 59 threes, and we were at the rim all night, too. That’s the math equation. I’d love to see us make some more threes, obviously. It looks great when they go in. Tonight, they didn’t go in at the rate they need to go.”
The Nets’ defensive problems have been compounded by the absence of starting power forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and backup point guard Caris LeVert. “They’re two of our top defenders,” Atkinson said. “We take a hit there . . . Everybody has injuries, but it’s hit us hard. It’s been a struggle without those guys.”