Once again, the Nets abandoned all of their defensive principles in the second half and managed to squander all but two points of a 20-point third-quarter lead.
This time they found the fortitude and offensive firepower down the stretch to pull out a 135-125 victory over the one-win Pelicans on Monday night at Barclays Center, but it was yet another cautionary tale about how much work lies ahead for a talented team that still is trying to find its way.
With the Nets facing yet another late-game meltdown, their sense of desperation was palpable late in the game. They surrendered 48 third-quarter points to the Pelicans and let Brandon Ingram go off for a career-high 40 points. When the Pelicans put together a 6-1 spurt, cutting the Nets’ lead to 121-119 on Josh Hart’s layup with 4:43 left, windpipes began to constrict.
That’s when the Nets put their foot down on the Pelicans’ throats, finishing the game with a 14-6 run. Joe Harris hit a three-pointer on a nice feed from Garrett Temple with 52.9 seconds left for a 133-125 lead that put it out of reach.
“We just found a way,” coach Kenny Atkinson said after the Nets lifted their record to 3-4. “Crazy game. Ingram was phenomenal. He hit some tough shots. We took a combination, a haymaker, a couple of left hooks to the jaw in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, we did a better job and slowed them down a little, but in the third quarter, they were unstoppable . . . With the three-point shot and the pace the game is played at, there is no lead that you really feel comfortable.”
Kyrie Irving had yet another stellar game, leading six Nets in double figures with 39 points and nine assists. Caris LeVert scored 23 points, Harris added 19 and Jarrett Allen had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Ingram topped six Pelicans in double figures, and they shot 40.6% from three-point range (13-for-32) in falling to 1-6.
Next up for the Nets is a five-game West Coast road trip beginning with a game Friday in Portland, so after a faltering 2-4 start, playing the struggling Pelicans at home seemed like a must-win situation. The way the win came about was an immense relief for the Nets.
“Honestly, it went better than it should have,” said Allen, who came in at the end after DeAndre Jordan suffered a sprained left ankle. “They came back — 48 points in the third quarter. That’s unacceptable, but we held our composure and won the game. It’s mixed feelings because of the third quarter, 48 points. We’re not proud of that.”
The Nets put together a 25-6 second-quarter surge en route to a 67-50 halftime lead that marked the most points they have scored in the first half this season. They expanded their lead to 20 points at 75-55 on a three by Harris, but right on cue, their defense took a sudden nosedive.
The Pelicans put together an extended run of 43-26 to pull within three late in the period. During their long run, the Pelicans shot 8-for-9 from three-point range in one stretch and added two other three-point possessions.
When the Pelicans pulled within two with 4:43 left in the game, the Nets looked shaky, but Irving took over with some brilliant playmaking, driving inside and passing out for open shots.
“That’s part of my responsibility — getting in the paint, I draw so much attention,” Irving said. “Being able to see that weak side when guys are putting the triangle on me when I’m driving left or right. Whether I’m scoring or someone is getting a wide-open shot, just continue to trust that the basketball gods will reward you for making the right play. They did that for us tonight.”