For the third time in three games this season, the Nets got cuffed around by the Knicks like a scrawny younger brother. Their small lineup was no match for the bigger, more physical Knicks, who beat them up in dominating fashion in the fourth quarter of a 119-104 victory in Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee at Barclays Center.
The Nets cut a 14-point deficit to 83-81 entering the fourth quarter, but the Knicks took charge with an 11-0 run to start the period. The Nets missed all five of their shots, including a trio of three-pointers, and committed two turnovers in that span.
The Knicks (20-24) led by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter, and the Nets (16-28) lost for the fourth time in their past five games.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson called the Knicks’ surge to open the fourth “the knockout punch. They took us out in the beginning of that fourth quarter and then dominated us the rest of the quarter . . . For some reason, their bench comes in and kind of dominates us, and that’s not usually the case with us. I think that was the similar story in all three games.’’
The Nets were held to 36.8 percent shooting overall, hit only 34.4 percent (11-for-32) from three-point range compared to the Knicks’ 56.3 percent (9-for-16), were outrebounded 51-45 and were outscored 48-26 in the paint. The Nets were outmuscled inside by Kristaps Porzingis, Enes Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn and Michael Beasley as the Knicks blocked 10 shots.
The Nets got 22 points from DeMarre Carroll, 20 from Caris LeVert and 16 from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but starting guards Allen Crabbe and Spencer Dinwiddie shot a combined 3-for-21, including 1-for-10 from three-point range.
When asked if the Nets’ relative lack of size has been their Achilles’ heel, Dinwiddie defended their devotion to “small ball.”
“You’ve got to be who you are in this world,” he said. “We’re built to play a certain style. We use our lack of size to our advantage to play faster, shoot more threes. It’s the same way [the Knicks] use their size to try to get more offensive rebounds and beat you up inside. It’s a clash of styles.
“If we don’t make shots and put them on the free-throw line and thus don’t have pace, then we’re not going to play our style. So they impose their will. If we get stops, get out in transition and we make threes, then we impose our will on them. We have to be who we are and just do a better job. I mean, hit more shots. It’s really simple.”
Atkinson played 7-foot starting center Tyler Zeller and low-post bench scorer Jahlil Okafor a mere 18 minutes combined. Asked if he considered going to a bigger lineup, Atkinson said, “Because they were at the rim, we needed to spread them out. Going small helped us get back in the game. You could argue staying small, they took advantage of that. I just felt we weren’t scoring the ball. We had to change. That’s why we went small.”