LOS ANGELES — The Nets shot their way back from a 15-point third-quarter deficit to grab an eight-point lead with 3:11 left Sunday night at Staples Center. But on Oscar night in Los Angeles, it was young Clippers star Austin Rivers who got the best actor award for leading a furious comeback and hitting the game-winner in a 123-120 victory.
The Nets, who lost for the 13th time in 15 games and fell for the third straight time on the current road trip with breakdowns in the final minute, were left with nothing but Rotten Tomatoes for their efforts.
On their final possession with 8.9 seconds left, Joe Harris went up for a potential tying three-pointer but was blocked from behind by Sindarius Thornwell. Harris recovered the ball, but his desperate attempt fell short.
The Clippers finished the game on a 13-2 run, including five points from Rivers, whose step-back three from the left wing put them in front 121-120 with 33.5 seconds left. On the ensuing Nets possession, Caris LeVert tried to feed Rondae Hollis-Jefferson under the basket, but DeAndre Jordan tipped the ball away, leading to a clinching basket by Lou Williams.
“Tough, tough loss,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We climbed back. We showed a lot of grit, had an opportunity. Rivers makes an unbelievable shot. We have some opportunities and it doesn’t go down.
“The first half was a disaster defensively, quite honestly, and we turned it around. But again, I think we’re talking about the story of getting down 12 or 15 on the road against a really good team.”
On a night when the Nets’ bench outscored the starters 75-45, D’Angelo Russell (six points, 1-for-6 shooting) played only 4:30 in the third period and not at all in the fourth. Backup point guard LeVert led the Nets (20-44) with 27 points and 11-for-19 shooting, and the Nets also got double-figures scoring from reserves Harris (19), Hollis-Jefferson (15) and Dante Cunningham (14). DeMarre Carroll, who had 20, was the only starter in double figures.
Asked about Russell’s benching, Atkinson said, “Caris was great. That’s it. There was no way with the game he was having. There’s only so many spots out there. We felt like we had to go with Caris.”
No one on the Nets could contain Rivers, who led the Clippers (34-28) with 27 points and shot 10-for-15. They got 26 points from Half Hollow Hills West alum Tobias Harris, 21 from Williams and 17 points and 15 rebounds from DeAndre Jordan.
After a halftime tongue-lashing from Atkinson about their poor competitive level on defense, the Nets turned it up. They made eight of their first 10 three-point attempts in a 32-17 run that gave them a 118-110 lead. Then they missed seven of their final eight shots, including five three-pointers.
Spencer Dinwiddie, who had an 0-for-6 shooting night but contributed 10 assists, credited defense for the comeback. “I think it was our intensity, our effort,” he said. “We got out in transition because we got some stops and turned them over a little bit. So I think our threes were a little bit easier than usual. Guys also made shots, too.”
LeVert, who led the Nets with a plus-18 rating, agreed that defense led to improved offense. “Kenny talked at halftime about our competitiveness defensively, and I think in the second half, we wanted to step that up and change that,” he said.
But in the end, it was Rivers who was the star of the game. Describing his winning shot, he said, “I was like, if I miss, this is a bad shot. But sometimes swing big, miss big. I love those moments, I really do.”