If there is one NBA team that is like a late closer in thoroughbred racing, it’s the Nets. The problem is they often are coming from so far back, they can’t get across the finish line first.
After digging a 28-point third-quarter hole, the Nets teased their crowd once again Saturday night at Barclays Center by fighting back in dramatic fashion to force two overtime periods. But they missed their first nine shots in the second OT session as the Pelicans pulled away to a 138-128 victory.
“It’s just too many times that we’ve gotten in a big hole,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I loved the comeback, I loved our spirit in the second half, how competitive we are. I’m just mystified how the first half was completely different. We’ve talked about this before. You just can’t get in a hole down 28 against a very good team. But I am proud of the way we stuck together and really competed and made it a heck of a game.”
The Nets (19-38) had three players top the 20-point mark, including Allen Crabbe (28), Spencer Dinwiddie (24 and 10 assists) and D’Angelo Russell (21 and nine rebounds). All-Star Anthony Davis led the Pelicans (29-26) with 44 points, Rajon Rondo had a triple-double (25 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists), Jrue Holiday added 22 points and Nikola Mirotic had 21.
After going down 28 in the third quarter, Russell scored seven straight Nets points to kick start a 24-8 run. Crabbe hit four three-pointers during that stretch as the Nets trimmed their deficit to 12 points. That set the stage for the Nets’ fourth-quarter charge.
“In the second half, we got ourselves into a big hole again, and we owe it to our fans not to get blown out like that,” Crabbe said. “We didn’t play like we, as an organization, want to play in the first half. Coach didn’t even come in and yell at us. He said, ‘Y’all figure it out and get it together.’ I feel like we had a good effort in the second half, but you can’t keep playing catch-up all the time.”
The Pelicans had a 17-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Nets fashioned a 21-6 run, including six points each from Dinwiddie and Russell to cut the Pelicans’ lead to 108-106 with 5:05 left. Still trailing by three in the final seconds, Atkinson drew up an inbounds play that put the ball in Crabbe’s hands, and his sixth made three from the left corner tied the game at 116 with 12.2 seconds left in regulation.
“That was the play we drew up,” Crabbe said. “They told me they’d find me in the corner. They gave it to me and I knocked it down.”
Crabbe hit a pair of threes in the first overtime period to give the Nets a 122-118 lead, but Holiday scored five points in a 6-2 Pelicans surge to tie the score at 124 and force a second OT. The Nets were outscored 14-4 in that session thanks to 1-for-11 shooting.
Atkinson said the Pelicans did a good job of switching on defense, but Dinwiddie faulted himself for missing on a couple of drives. Still, the Nets once again showed you rarely can count them out.
“It’s because we’re actually talented,” Dinwiddie said. “I know people don’t think we are, but we can actually play basketball and we can really shoot.
“It’s more so about us having the maturity and the focus to not go down. For us to take that next step, we have to play with that level of intensity all the time. Sometimes, we just come out kind like we’re the Cavs or the Warriors or something. We can’t do that.”