The Nets held Luka Doncic to a mere five second half points, but it didn’t matter because Kevin Durant shot just 1-of-10 in the second half. As a result, the Nets suffered their season-high fourth straight loss by a 113-109 margin Thursday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
The Nets led by four early in the fourth quarter, but a pair of baskets by Dorian Finney-Smith tied the game at 90 with 9:19 left to play. Unlike the previous game in Milwaukee when Nets coach Steve Nash refused to call a timeout as the Bucks went on a game-changing 18-1 run in the final period, Nash quickly called a timeout to regroup against the Mavs.
It didn’t help stop the Mavs’ momentum. They put together a 13-2 run, ending with a three by Finney-Smith for a 99-92 lead with 5:57 left to play. Kevin Durant was struggling with his shot, but after going 6-of-18, he hit a jumper from the elbow to cut the deficit to 104-99 with 3:36 to go.
Kyrie Irving made a pair of foul shots to pull within 108-104 with 47.7 seconds left, but Jalen Brunson sliced to the basket on the other end for a layup and a six-point lead with 32.6 seconds left. Ball game.
Asked about the pressure of losing four straight with five games left in the regular season and playoff seeding on the line, Nash said, "I think pressure is good. You’re going to face pressure in the playoffs, so we have to be pressure-tested as a team that hasn’t been there together before. So this is a little bit of pressure for us, a little bit of a hole to dig out of.
"I think these are positive scenarios that we haven’t faced…We need all these games in order to get better. Win or lose, what can we take from them? What can we gain? There’s not a ton of panic. We’ve made the playoffs and we’re getting healthy at the right time. Now what can we do? How can we put the pieces of this puzzle together to make us as strong as possible in as short a period of time as possible so we’re giving ourselves the best chance to succeed when the playoffs come around?"
Irving topped the Nets (43-24) with 45 points on brilliant 17-of-31 shooting, Durant finished with 20 on miserable 7-of-21 shooting, Blake Griffin had 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Bruce Brown had 10 points. Doncic led the Mavericks (38-28) with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 and Finney-Smith totaled 17.
Irving brushed aside his 45-point effort as a great but ultimately empty performance. "Throw that away," Irving said. "It’s about us and that win column…It’s about time we got tested. It’s inevitable when you’re going to other teams’ floors. It’s been too easy at times."
At halftime, the Mavs had a slim 63-62 lead. Irving already had 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting for the Nets, and Doncic had 19 for the Mavs.
The Mavs opened the third quarter by missing their first nine shots. But after Irving put the Nets in front with an opening three-pointer, the Nets failed to take advantage because they missed their next seven shots and committed two turnovers before a three by Joe Harris gave them a 68-63 lead.
The Mavs responded with a 13-4 burst that included a trio of three-pointers to gain a 76-72 lead. But the Nets finished the quarter on a 9-4 run to take an 83-82 lead to the fourth quarter. They held Doncic to a single point in the third quarter. But their defense broke down in the final quarter when it mattered.