ATLANTA — The Nets lost Wednesday night, as usual, yet the search for kernels of hope revealed bright spots. Sean Kilpatrick scored 20 of his 27 points in the second half of the Hawks’ 110-105 win.
While making 8 of 14 shots, including 3-for-7 on three-pointers, Kilpatrick became the first Net in more than three years to score 20 or more points off the bench in three consecutive games. Andray Blatche last did it Dec. 12-16, 2013.
The Hawks (35-29) broke a three-game home losing streak to stay afloat for a home berth in the first round of the playoffs, and the Nets (11-52) narrowly missed winning for the third time in five games. The Hawks earned only their third win in nine games. The Nets have lost 19 of their last 21.
They made a heck of a run at it, though, giving the Hawks fits before falling for the fifth consecutive time at Philips Arena. Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder did in the Nets with 31 points and a huge steal late.
Schroder scored a game-high 31 points, and Paul Millsap had 24. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 16 points, and Dwight Howard scored 11 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
Brook Lopez had 18 points and blocked five shots for the Nets.
After leading 50-46 at halftime, the Nets let go of their edge in a third quarter in which they coughed the ball up nine times and got pounded on the boards. Still, twice in the game’s final 70 seconds the Nets closed to within a bucket. This didn’t look anything like a team packing it in.
“We’re getting better,” Lopez said. “We have to take what we did well from this game, and keep improving; learn from what we did wrong.’’
Caris LeVert’s three-pointer with 1:10 left drew the Nets within 102-100, but Atlanta’s Ersan Ilyasova soon gathered an offensive rebound and stuck it back in for a four-point lead. After Jeremy Lin fed Lopez for a dunk at the 46-second mark, Lopez blocked a Schroder shot, and the Nets took off to tie or lead.
Schroder, however, caught up to Kilpatrick from behind near midcourt. He poked the ball away for a turnover that led to a pair of free throws by Schroder with 15 seconds left.
Kilpatrick, who added four rebounds and made 8 of 9 free throws, said he didn’t know the Hawks’ point guard was coming.
“No. I mean, but that’s what he does,” Kilpatrick said. “He’s one of the sneakiest guys in the league. At the end of the day, he made a great play.”
The Nets played good defense in the paint. Atlanta made just 2 of 9 shots from in close, where Lopez, Isaiah Whitehead, Quincy Acy and K.J. McDaniels each blocked a shot in the second quarter.
Kilpatrick has averaged 23.3 points over the past three games. The undrafted guard out of Cincinnati had a simple explanation for his hot streak.
“Less thinking and just more playing,” Kilpatrick said. “I think the fact that I’m just playing a lot more confident in my game and taking the correct shots. That’s what it is. Trying not to force anything, just playing in the system.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, formerly a Hawks assistant, said he likes what he’s seeing.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Atkinson said. “I just felt like we have to use our decision-making a little better at the end on the offensive end . . . We can compete in this league, and compete against good team. We’re playing well as a team.
“This is a tough loss, though. I felt like we had a real good opportunity to come away with a win.”