The opportunity was a big one. The effort the Nets met it with was small.
Against an Atlanta team that had only four wins on its ledger, the Nets had a chance to pick up a third win in four games and maybe begin an assault on the .500 mark. Instead, they played like a team with no momentum.
The Nets trailed for all of the last three quarters Saturday, and though they cut the Hawks’ lead to two with 8:13 left, they ultimately fell, 114-102, before 13,949 at Barclays Center.
“I thought they dominated us in every area,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “They were the more aggressive team. They were the quicker team . . . They really took it to us. We could not keep them in front of us . . . That was the story of the game: We couldn’t guard them.”
Even before tip-off, Atkinson expressed concern about whether returning to the comforts of home would rob the Nets of the intensity they showed in winning twice on a three-game road trip. He said that after a good road trip, “that first home game is a real test for your energy level, your readiness, your mental focus.”
Sure enough, his concerns were not unfounded.
“They came out and basically kicked our butt,” said DeMarre Carroll, who shot 3-for-12. “We didn’t have any energy. We came out lackadaisical and we knew coming off a three-game road trip, this tends to happen. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”
So true. Atkinson said a big part of the Nets’ game plan was to drive to the basket and take advantage of a Hawks team that was playing without three big men: 7-foot Dwayne Dedmon, 6-11 John Collins and 6-10 Mike Muscala. But they didn’t score a point in the paint until Spencer Dinwiddie’s layup with 6:13 left before halftime.
“We’re a driving team — we drive it and get to the free-throw line. It’s kind of our identity,” Atkinson said. “For some reason, we were not driving the ball like we needed to.”
Dinwiddie finished with 15 points and nine assists. Joe Harris had 13 points and Allen Crabbe, Jarrett Allen and Sean Kilpatrick each added 12 for the Nets (8-14), who hit 17 three-pointers to match their season high. A surprisingly sloppy Caris LeVert had four turnovers and was minus-24 in 25 minutes.
Dennis Schroder scored 24 points and Luke Babbitt had 20 for Atlanta (5-17).
Despite all that the Nets struggled with, they mounted a fourth-quarter charge. Allen had six points in a 13-6 run at the start of the quarter and scored on a pick-and-roll with Harris to close the gap to 90-88 with 8:13 to play.
Atlanta, however, answered with an 18-3 run in the next 4:19. The Nets shot 1-for-5 with three turnovers and the Hawks shot 7-for-9 in that span.
“We couldn’t really guard them,” Atkinson said of the quick unraveling. “We turned it over too much. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
The Nets won’t have to wait long for the chance to redeem themselves. They will meet the Hawks in Atlanta on Monday and will treat it like a big game.
“Every game for us is important because we are fighting and scratching and clawing to be legitimate and earn the respect of everyone around the league — other teams, other coaches, the refs, everything,” Dinwiddie said. “In the fight to earn respect, every game is life and death.”