ATLANTA - Lionel Hollins wanted to make sure the Nets were thinking positively as they peeled off their uniforms after yet another loss to the Hawks, so he chose to deliver more of an uplifting message Sunday night.
"I said, 'If you don't believe that you can play in this series, you should believe it now,' " he said after the eighth-seeded Nets dropped their Eastern Conference first-round series opener to the top-seeded Hawks, 99-92, at Philips Arena. "We played hard, but we also have to play better and smarter and I had no fault with the effort of our guys. We just have got to be smarter, execute better."
The Nets' next chance to do that is Wednesday night, when the teams meet in Game 2.
In a sense, there are two ways to look at things for the Nets:
They didn't come close to playing one of their best games, fell behind by double-digits on more than one occasion -- and by as many as 16 -- and still were right there at the end. They turned the ball over 17 times, directly leading to 24 easy points for the Hawks, something the Nets knew they couldn't afford to do against Atlanta's transition game.
The Nets also misfired on 15 of 20 attempts from beyond the three-point arc and shot 68.2 percent from the foul line.
Now the other view: Atlanta lacked a killer instinct and seemed ripe for the taking in the second half, leaving the Nets in position to steal a game and at worst send the series to Brooklyn on Friday tied at 1-1.
So this could turn out to be one of those games they look back on, pondering how they squandered a golden opportunity to take down the Hawks for the first time in five meetings this season.
"I felt we gave ourselves a great chance to win," said Joe Johnson, who heard boos every time he touched the ball. He finished with 17 points and shot 6-for-17, missing all six three-point attempts. "Coach told us going into the game the thing that's killed us is turnovers, and it hurt us again tonight. If we take care of the basketball and stay close and give ourselves a chance down the stretch, we'll be all right.
"We gave ourselves a chance but we missed a lot of free throws, and we didn't make a lot of shots we normally do, especially from three . . . We were horrible tonight. We'll make adjustments, man, and just keep working, keep grinding. That's what it's going to come down to."
Finding more shots and ways to involve Brook Lopez, who had 17 points and 14 rebounds, should be at the forefront of their discussions during the next two days.
The Hawks, paced by Kyle Korver's 21 points, made things difficult for the 7-footer, limiting him to seven shots. They bottled up the Nets' pick-and-roll with Lopez, refusing to let them get anything going, and also pushed him far off the blocks, sending an extra defender on the rare times he caught the ball in the post.
"We just got to find some actions that work for him," said Deron Williams, who mustered only two assists, "because we definitely need to get him the ball. That little pocket pass that we were getting the last half of the season is not there against these guys. They're doing a good job of taking that away. But like I said, swing, swing and then maybe post him up on the other side. Those are things we can do to get Brook involved, and we need to get him more involved."