The Nets won Saturday in Chicago while playing without Kyrie Irving for the first time this season, but they missed his 28.5 points per game contribution big-time in a 115-86 loss to the Pacers that all but ended in the second quarter when they fell behind by 28 points Monday night at Barclays Center.
Spencer Dinwiddie, who was Saturday’s hero with a 20-point fourth quarter, put on another stellar performance while replacing Irving as the starting point guard, scoring 28 points on 9-for-21 shooting and adding eight assists and five rebounds while playing 33 minutes.
But the rest of the Nets (5-8) starters combined for just 34 points, and the bench virtually failed to fire, totaling a mere 14 points on 4-for-19 shooting before coach Kenny Atkinson pulled his starters and cleared his bench with 6:05 remaining and the Nets trailing at 99-76.
“We totally weren’t there tonight for whatever reason,” Atkinson said. “Defensively, offensively, rebounding, physicality. It was total domination by Indiana. You have to give them a lot of credit because they have a lot of guys out, too. So, fantastic job by Indiana. Nets, we weren’t very good tonight. When that happens, much like Phoenix, it’s a 30-point difference.”
The Nets’ previous worst loss was by 26 points at Phoenix, and they now have lost four of their past five games. Starting against the Hornets Wednesday at Barclays Center, they play four games ins six days.
The Pacers (8-6) also had injury problems without point guard Malcolm Brogdon (lower back) or high-scoring sixth man Jeremy Lamb (ankle). But after a slow start, they had five players score in double figures led by Aaron Holiday with 24 points and 13 assists and 20 points from Justin Holiday. T.J. Warren added 19 points and Domantas Sabonis had 16 points and 18 rebounds. The Pacers outrebounded the Nets 63-40.
The Nets opened the game with a nice 14-6 segment, but momentum swung quickly in the middle of the first period when Atkinson began subbing for a team playing without Irving (right shoulder impingement) and Caris LeVert (thumb surgery). The offense went into a deep funk as the Nets made just 2 of 25 shots during a 32-6 Indiana run that gave them a 38-20 lead in the second period.
“Below average teams are inconsistent, and that’s what we are right now,” Atkinson said. “To come here, in front of our fans, it just doesn’t feel good at all.”
That early Pacers run expanded into an extended run of 53-17 for a 59-31 lead just before the Nets added two late baskets to cut their halftime deficit to 24 points. Before those two scores, the Nets went through a 7-for-34 shooting stretch with four turnovers to go 28 down. By contrast, the Pacers made five straight three-pointers at the end of that span.
The lack of production by a bench that excelled against the Bulls was most disturbing. “They were good in Chicago, and the reverse happened tonight,” Atkinson said. “We’re going to look at it. It’s tough to overreact to either one. What we’re dealing with is still trying to find what our bench looks like.”
Atkinson said the Nets still are “struggling to build a strong foundation” with a new group of players. What bothered him the most was what he viewed as a lack of effort related to a poor shooting night. “We succumbed a bit,” Atkinson said.
Jarrett Allen, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds, acknowledged the Nets’ early-season problems. “It’s definitely frustrating seeing us hit our stride in spurts,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, we keep saying it’s going to take time. We have Caris and Kyrie out, and that’s always going to be tough. We just have to keep battling.”