For the Nets, their fourth game of the new season looked suspiciously like so many games last season when stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were reduced to spectators at the end of the bench. But this time, it wasn’t because of long-term injuries but rather precautionary load management early in the season.
It was the first real test of the Nets’ depth, especially since they also lost starting shooting guard Spencer Dinwiddie because of a partial right anterior cruciate ligament tear that will require surgery next week, but the Grizzlies lost reigning rookie of the year Ja Morant with a sprained left ankle late in the first half.
It came down to a test of wills in the fourth quarter when the score was tied three times and the teams traded the lead nine times before a three-point miss by Caris LeVert at the end of regulation sent the game to overtime. The Nets trailed by two in OT and had the ball with 8.1 seconds left, but a Joe Harris three-point attempt fell short and the Grizzlies pulled out a 116-111 victory Monday night at Barclays Center.
LeVert led the Nets (2-2) with 28 points, 11 assists and five steals, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot added 21 points (but only two after halftime), and Chris Chiozza tied his career-high with 14 points off the bench. Kyle Anderson topped the Grizzlies (1-2) with 28 points, Dillon Brooks totaled 24, and Jonas Valanciunas had 14 points and 14 rebounds.
The Nets put the ball in LeVert’s capable hands at the end of regulation. Rather than drive and possibly draw a foul, LeVert let the clock run down with the score tied at 106 and took the three. On the Harris OT attempt, the inbounds pass was supposed to go to LeVert, but he was tightly covered, so, it went to Harris, whose potential game-winning three bounded off the front of the rim.
After the game, LeVert admitted Valanciunas was a formidable presence under the basket, which influenced his decision to stay outside. "As far as the play going into overtime in regulation, it was just an iso up top," LeVert said. "I practice that shot every day. I’ll live with that. In overtime . . . Joe shot a three, and we were down two. If that would’ve went in, we could have won, so, we’ll live with that, as well."
Describing his OT attempt, Harris said, "I had a pretty good, one-dribble, pull-up look at it, but it just didn’t go down."
The Nets rested Durant and Irving in the first back-to-back set of the season because both are coming back from surgery. "Just trying to be really measured with the demands on those guys and monitoring adaptation back to the NBA," coach Steve Nash explained. "Got to monitor all the demands and be able to protect them and their ongoing health."
The Nets trailed by 12 midway through the second quarter when Luwawu-Cabarrot caught fire, scoring 10 points, including a pair of threes in a 15-4 surge that cut the Nets’ deficit to 46-45. TLC and LeVert each scored four points in a later 10-3 surge that gave the Nets a 55-54 halftime lead.
The second half was tight all the way, but the Nets ran out of gas in the fourth quarter and overtime when they shot 32.3% overall (10 of 31) and 26.7% from three-point range (4 of 15).
"We had a really tired group at the end of that game on a back-to-back early in the season," Nash said. "Our legs were going. I’m really proud of the guys for giving themselves a chance to win. A bounce here or there, we get a victory, undermanned. Lot of good takeaways, but a lot to clean up as well."