This was bad.
Considering the stakes, the venue and the fact that their opponent was playing on a second consecutive night while they spent the previous day resting, the Nets' 110-91 loss to the Celtics at Barclays Center Monday night ranked with some of their worst efforts of this season, ones they thought they'd flushed from everyone's memory.
When they officially threw in the towel with 1:34 remaining and coach Lionel Hollins yanked his key players, a clear chant of "Let's go Celtics!" reverberated through the arena, signaling just how rough a night it was for the Nets (29-40).
They had a chance to leapfrog three teams in the standings and at least temporarily wrap their arms around a playoff position with 13 games remaining.
But rather than rise up to meet the challenge and add to the momentum gained by wins over the Bucks and Pacers, the Nets reverted to the maddening ways that have had many scratching their heads. They trailed for the game's final 29:10 and dropped to 11/2 games behind the Celtics, who took over eighth place in the East.
"It hurts because obviously we wanted to come out and win this game," Joe Johnson said. "We understand where we are in the standings, so to keep climbing, this was a game that we had to be better in, to be honest. I thought we had two great, tough wins and for whatever reason, other than the first quarter, we were pretty flat the rest of the game."
Boston (31-39) went ahead by 16 points with 8:19 left, prompting boos from an annoyed crowd that was incredulous that the Nets couldn't match up with the Celtics. They never trimmed their deficit to single-digits in the final 4:31.
"We know our crowd. Sometimes they are with us, sometimes they are not," Alan Anderson said. "So, I mean, when we are playing like that, what do you expect? We've got to give a better performance."
Showing a little more grit defensively would have been a good place to start for the Nets, who also were too stagnant offensively and "were a little selfish at times, not making extra passes," as Deron Williams put it.
Defense was nonexistent for lengthy stretches, creating driving lanes the width of Atlantic Avenue for the Celtics, and Boston punished the Nets whenever they left them open on the perimeter.
The Nets' pressure wasn't intense enough and certainly didn't intimidate the Celtics, who played with plenty of confidence. Boston pick-and-rolled the Nets to death, frustrating them with a small lineup that led to indecisiveness defensively and spurred the Celtics to a flurry of dunks and easy buckets.
What a wasted opportunity.
"We knew this was a big game," said Williams, who just missed a triple-double with 10 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. "It wasn't one game like it normally is when you lose to a team and you fall back one game in the standings. This was actually two because of the tiebreaker. Now they have the tiebreaker.
"But all these games seriously matter, so this is definitely a tough loss."