LOS ANGELES — It was St. Patrick’s Day for everyone else, but for the Nets, it was Groundhog Day.
The third game of their seven-game road trip was eerily similar to the opener Wednesday in Oklahoma City, a game in which they blew a 17-point second-quarter lead and came back in the fourth quarter, only to suffer a brutal loss.
Only the name changed to the Clippers, who overcame the Nets’ 19-point second-quarter lead, fell behind again late in the third, surged ahead by 14 in the fourth and saw the Nets tie the score on Jarrett Allen’s dunk with 5.3 seconds left. This time the ending was much more painful as the Clippers’ Lou Williams buried a 28-foot three-pointer just before the buzzer for a 119-116 victory Sunday night at Staples Center.
The Nets forced Williams farther out than usual, and Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell both contested the shot, but the ball splashed cleanly.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said what he was looking for “wasn’t necessarily a Lou fadeaway three with two guys on him, but it’s Lou, and Lou makes those shots.”
As the Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell said of Williams, “He’s just a professional bucket-getter.”
Said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, “I think we forced him into something tougher than normal. The plan was to get it out of his hands, but their alignment was such that we couldn’t get it out of his hands. He is a master at getting open.”
Trailing by 10 after a three-pointer by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 1:02 left, the Nets ran off 10 straight points and tied it on Allen’s dunk off a beautiful lob pass from Russell.
Williams’ shot was a punch in the gut for the Nets, who suffered their third straight loss and dropped to .500 at 36-36.
Russell led the Nets with a stellar 32-point, 10-assist effort. DeMarre Carroll added 22 and Allen had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Dinwiddie struggled in his hometown, scoring 13 points and shooting 2-for-16.
The Clippers (41-30) were led by the impressive veteran trio of Williams (25 points), Danilo Gallinari (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Harrell (20 points, 10 rebounds).
When they look back on how this one got away, the Nets must come to the inescapable conclusion that blowing a 19-point second-quarter lead was the real problem. The Clippers outscored the Nets 33-9 in the final 8:07 of the quarter to take a 60-55 halftime lead and extended that to 14 points midway through the fourth.
Atkinson pointed to the Clippers’ 10-for-10 performance in the second quarter as the breakdown. “We put them on the free- throw line,” he said. “That’s 10 free ones. We marched them to the free-throw line. We were up 19. You can’t give away free points like that.”
Despite the late comeback in a game in which they were playing for the third time in five nights, the Nets weren’t declaring any moral victories. “That’s the biggest piece about this,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s not so much the comeback, and obviously credit to Lou Williams. But it’s not the shot. It’s the fact we had the lead and let it go.
“Then we had to get into a scramble situation, we had to switch to a zone, we had to come back, we had to make big shots. We had to do all that stuff instead of putting our foot on their neck.”
Still, it was an inspiring comeback in the final minute that showed toughness. “I think DLo and Spencer did a great job of handling the ball and making the right calls,” Allen said.
In the end, the Nets were left with a sense of déjà vu.
“It’s the same thing over and over, just trying to keep our heads right,” Allen said. “Even though they came back, we still played hard to the end.”