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Nets no match for Pacers in the paint en route to loss

Nets center Brook Lopez holds off Pacers center

Nets center Brook Lopez holds off Pacers center Myles Turner as he looks to pass during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017. Credit: AP / Michael Conroy

INDIANAPOLIS — Paint the Nets embarrassed by their utter failure to control Indiana in the paint Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers flowed through the heart of the Nets’ defense like water to shoot 51.6 percent from the field and pour an endless stream of layups and dunks into the basket for a 121-109 victory.

The Pacers dominated points in the paint, 52-30, and they complemented that with 45.5 percent shooting from three-point range (10-for-22). The Nets cut a 22-point third-quarter deficit to 111-103 on a three-pointer by Justin Hamilton, but that was as close as they got.

Coach Kenny Atkinson made a change in the starting lineup, replacing shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick with Joe Harris. Part of the reason was because the coach wanted Harris to defend Pacers star Paul George, and part of it was that he wanted to add Kilpatrick’s ballhandling and scoring to the second unit.

Whether or not that move was the catalyst, Atkinson left no doubt about his disappointment in his starters who ranged from minus-13 to minus-29 when they were on the floor. The top six players off the bench all were in positive figures, including plus-20 for Hamilton.

“Our bench was great,” Atkinson said. “Justin helped, and Spencer [Dinwiddie] did a great job. Their starters took us out early. There was a big difference.”

Atkinson said Pacers point guard Jeff Teague, who had 21 points and 15 assists, controlled the game and helped create room for George, who led Indiana (19-18) with 26 points, and center Myles Turner, who added 25 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. The Nets (8-26), who lost for the ninth time in their past 10 games, got 16 points from Trevor Booker and Hamilton and 13 each from Kilpatrick (plus eight rebounds and five assists) and Dinwiddie.

The Pacers opened up a 27-14 lead late in the first quarter before the Nets’ bench put together a 24-11 run spanning the first and second quarters to tie it at 38. But the Pacers regained control with a 13-0 run at the end of the second quarter into the beginning of the third when the starters for both teams were on the floor.

Indiana put the game away with a 24-9 third-quarter run that built their biggest lead at 88-66. “I thought we came out kind of mush for some reason,” Atkinson said. “As soon as we put our bench in, the energy picked up.”

Explaining the Pacers’ dominance inside, Atkinson said, “Myles Turner had 15 rebounds, and he’s long and athletic. They had their way with us in the paint . . . Their starting group played great. I think that was the story of the game in both the first and the third. Our starters will bounce back.”

The Nets left backup forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (right hip) in Brooklyn in the hope he can recover from his injury in time to face defending NBA champion Cleveland Friday night at Barclays Center. Had Hollis-Jefferson been healthy, he might have started on George. Kilpatrick, who complained three games ago about the Nets not playing as a team, took the demotion to the second unit in stride.

“You’ve got to handle it like a pro,” Kilpatrick said. “I’ve got to do exactly what coach wants to help the team and make sure everything is going correctly. Whatever he asks of me is something I’ve got to continue to keep giving.”

Brook Lopez credited the Nets’ reserves for keeping them in the game and admitted the first unit “got completely outplayed.” He added, “We’ve got to hold each other accountable and keep battling. We’ve got to do our best to recover is the bottom line.”

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