PORTLAND, Ore. — The Nets did everything in their power to produce yet another of their trademark comebacks in an effort to string together three straight wins on their seven-game road trip. But after blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, falling behind by seven points in the second overtime and creeping back within two in the final minute, they fell just short in a 148-144 loss to the Trail Blazers on Monday night at Moda Center.
The loss dropped the Nets (38-37) into a virtual tie for sixth place with the Pistons (37-36) in the Eastern Conference, with Detroit holding a slight edge in terms of winning percentage. The Nets’ magic number to qualify for the playoffs remains at six against both the ninth-place Magic and 10th-place Hornets.
It was a bittersweet win for the Trail Blazers, who clinched a playoff berth but lost center Jusuf Nurkic for the rest of the season when he suffered a gruesome left leg injury in the second overtime and was taken off the court on a stretcher and then to a local hospital. The Blazers said Nurkic suffered compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula.
Both teams were rattled by the sight of the injury, which left Nurkic’s left foot twisted at an awful angle.
Nets backup center Ed Davis played for Portland the previous three seasons and is close to Nurkic. “Nurk is a good friend,” Davis said. “When he came to New York, we went to dinner. He was having a hell of a year, helping his team out a lot. It’s just tough. It’s sad. It stings a little more for me because it’s a former teammate and a guy that I talk to a lot. So it hurts.”
Both Davis and Nets starting center Jarrett Allen had fouled out by that time while trying to guard the 7-foot, 275-pound Nurkic, who had 32 points and 16 rebounds. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson had to resort to using power forward Jared Dudley at center, and the Blazers tried to exploit that mismatch in the first and second overtimes. In the second overtime, the Nets failed to score on their first eight possessions, including three immediately after Nurkic was carted away with the Blazers holding a 136-132 lead.
“Once I saw his foot out in the wrong direction, it took a while to get me back into the flow of the game,” Dudley said. “Stuff like that is bigger than basketball. He played phenomenal. No one could really guard him or stop him.”
Dudley said he made mistakes after the Nurkic injury and said the Nets in general executed poorly after building a 112-102 lead in the fourth quarter after a 22-7 run.
“We just made stupid mistakes that we haven’t been doing the last 25 or 30 games,” he said.
D’Angelo Russell topped the Nets with 39 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, and they got 22 points from Spencer Dinwiddie and 18 from DeMarre Carroll. The Blazers (46-17) also got 31 points and 12 assists from Damian Lillard. Seth Curry added 20 points and Rodney Hood had 18.
The Nets had a chance to close it out in regulation, but Lillard made a layup to get the Blazers within one in the final seconds and Russell had the ball stolen by Curry. Fouled with 3.5 seconds left, Curry missed the first before making the second to tie it at 120 and send it to overtime. Russell made up for it in the first overtime period, making a layup with 8.8 seconds left to tie the score at 132 and force a second overtime, at which point the Nets’ offense went cold.
“I don’t think we were as perfect as we needed to be to get a win in that tough environment,” Russell said. “They capitalized. They weren’t perfect, but they did enough to get it done. I don’t think we helped ourselves down the stretch.”
Trying to run the offense without Allen or Davis at center increased the degree of difficulty. “When you’ve got a different lineup out there and you try to run an offense that’s crisp and locked in as you want, it forced us to do other things,” Russell said. “I don’t think that was an excuse. We turned it over, we missed box-outs, they called a lot of fouls down the stretch. It kind of killed us, and we couldn’t really get out of it.”
The result obviously wasn’t what the Nets wanted, but coach Kenny Atkinson was pleased with the physicality his team showed against a top-flight playoff-bound team from the Western Conference. They will need a similar effort when their road trip ends Thursday night in Philadelphia.
“I thought we battled with them, we were in the boxing ring with them,” Atkinson said. “We took a few punches but didn’t go down, and I’m proud of our guys. I thought they tussled and fought with a big, strong team.”