Nothing comes easily for the Nets in Season One of their renewal project. When they took a season-high 29-point lead over Denver late in the third quarter Wednesday night at Barclays Center, it was as though the Nets were feeling the effects of reaching that altitude against a team from the Mile-High City.
They allowed the Nuggets to fight back within two points when Wilson Chandler hit a right-wing three-pointer with 16.3 seconds remaining, but Denver’s Jameer Nelson, trying to inbound the ball with 13.8 seconds left in a three-point game, threw it out of bounds, and the Nets held on for a 116-111 victory.
After Wilson’s three cut the Nets’ lead to 111-109, Trevor Booker made only the second of two foul shots with 13.8 seconds left. Nelson then inbounded from the left side in the frontcourt and fired a pass underneath the basket for a cutting teammate who didn’t materialize. In the final seconds, Bojan Bogdanovic (19 points) and Sean Kilpatrick (22 points) each made a pair of foul shots sandwiched around a Chandler layup for Denver for the final margin.
“I think we took a punch, two punches, maybe five punches, and we got off the floor and finished it out,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I felt like they started switching on some of our pick-and-rolls, and we got stagnant. We settled for some ill-advised shots, quite honestly. When you’re up 29, you can settle for some of those shots, and we just need to avoid that.”
It was only the second win in the past 12 games for the Nets (6-15), who were led by 24 points from Brook Lopez and also got 16 from Joe Harris and 15 points and 12 rebounds from Booker. Chandler topped the Nuggets (8-14) with 27 points and 15 rebounds, and the NBA’s leading rebounding team beat the Nets on the boards, 58-42, and had a huge 34-14 advantage in second-chance points.
Until Denver’s late run, the Nets were giving their most dominant performance of the season. They took a season-high 16-point halftime lead after outscoring the Nuggets in the paint, 42-20. “I told our team at halftime that Brooklyn was on pace for 84 points in our paint, which just shows signs of no resistance, no fight,” Denver coach Mike Malone said.
The third quarter has been a problem for the Nets, but this time, they started the third on a 24-9 run, including 10 points by Lopez to build a 92-63 lead. Malone got himself ejected with 7:43 left in an obvious attempt to spark his team.
The Nets still led by 25 points late in the third when things came unraveled as the Nuggets scored 13 unanswered points to begin what turned into an extended 28-7 run to cut the Nets’ lead to 103-99 on a layup by Kenneth Fareid with 4:31 left. At the beginning of that stretch, the Nets missed seven straight threes and ultimately would miss their final 11 three-point attempts.
“I remember Randy [Foye] coming to the bench and saying, ‘We took six threes in a row [at the end of the third period] and didn’t even attempt to really go to the rim and actually take a layup,’” Kilpatrick said. “We still have to be aggressive and attack the rim. A lot of guys can get to the rim and get fouled.”
After the Nuggets got within four, that’s exactly what Kilpatrick did, scoring six straight points to push the lead to 109-99 before the Nuggets cut it back to two. “We held on to the rope,” Lopez said. “I think we broke down a little defensively . . . But it shows great mental strength and persistence the way we held on.”