DETROIT — The Nets were missing three injured starters, turning the ball over like it was a hot potato and couldn’t buy a shot from three-point range. Yet, they battled back from a 13-point third-quarter deficit to grab a one-point lead with 3:50 left in the regular season opener Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena. It was nip-and-tuck from there as they dropped five behind and then cut it to one on Joe Harris’ three-pointer with 1:14 left.
Trailing by one with the ball and 15 seconds left, they couldn’t make it happen. Caris LeVert, who had a spectacular 27-point night, fought his way inside but lost the handle as the Nets’ 19th turnover cost them big-time in a 103-100 loss.
Harris, who totaled 13 points, had one more chance to tie the game but missed a three just before the buzzer as the Nets finished 5-for-27 from behind the arc. The Nets also got 23 points from Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen had 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, but their 19 turnovers led to 26 Pistons points. D’Angelo Russell had a quiet night with eight points and did not play in the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin had 26 points to lead the Pistons, Andre Drummond added 24 points and 20 rebounds.
“We had opportunities,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We had open shots that didn’t go down. We just didn’t close it out. I thought we did a lot of positive things today.”
No doubt, the Nets’ three-point shooting suffered from the absence of injured Allen Crabbe (ankle) and DeMarre Carroll (ankle surgery), and starting power forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (groin) also sat out. But that didn’t lessen the sting of seeing another game slip away at the end as many did last season.
Dinwiddie acknowledged how the Nets fought back, but he added, “Everybody in this locker room wants to be a good team and wants to win. So, I ain’t really buying all that rah-rah stuff, like we lost and we’re still trying to figure it out. We’re not here for moral victories.”
The game got away from the Nets in the third period when the Pistons went on a 20-4 run to take a 73-60 lead. But LeVert and Dinwiddie attacked the basket as the Nets fought back, taking the lead with 4:26 left on a layup by LeVert and putting a nose in front at 94-93 when LeVert drove and fed Allen with 3:50 to go.
“Drummond was reluctant to foul,” LeVert said. “Spencer started it. Drummond was backing up, and we kept attacking even when [backup center Zaza] Pachulia was on the floor.”
Their success was what kept Russell pinned to the bench. As Atkinson said, “Other guys were playing great.”
With 15 seconds left, the Nets trailed 101-100, when Atkinson called timeout. He put the ball in LeVert’s hands only to see him lose it in a crowd.
“I’d draw up the same thing tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that,” Atkinson said. “He got downhill on Drummond, Caris to his right hand from the elbow on a switch against their center.”
Looking back, LeVert said, “If I could take it back, I probably would have slowed down and brought it out a little bit. They made a good play on the ball.”