After losing the first two games of their five-game road trip to the Bucks and three straight overall, the Nets have reached a tipping point in their run to the playoffs. At 43-23 with only six games remaining, the Nets trail the 76ers (45-21) by 2 games for first place in the Eastern Conference, they are a game ahead of the third-place Bucks (42-24), and both of those teams hold the tiebreaker advantage over them.
Things don’t get any easier because the Nets face the Mavericks (37-28) and Luka Doncic Thursday night in Dallas. First-year coach Steve Nash has navigated brilliantly through a season in which the Nets have used a franchise-record 34 different starting lineups, but he came under scrutiny for his decision not to call a timeout during an 18-1 fourth-quarter Bucks run that decided Tuesday’s game.
It’s not the first time Nash has gone that route, and once again, he cited his desire to see his team "problem solve" as his reason. After the game, Kevin Durant implicitly questioned why he wasn’t on the floor to start the fourth quarter even though he had played the entire third quarter. But he also second-guessed himself for settling for three-pointers instead of driving in the fourth quarter when he had just two points on 1-of-6 shooting and missed a trio of threes.
Asked directly about Nash not calling timeout, Durant said, "I’ve been around different coaches who have handled it differently, and Steve has handled it differently, as well. All coaches make that decision throughout a game and they can go either way. But I think it is good for us to problem solve and figure things out and keep growing as a unit when things get tough out there and we still end up making it a game."
Durant was referring to the fact the Nets cut an 11-point deficit to five when he missed a deep three-pointer with 1:13 left, and they actually got as close as four with 1:02 to go. Veteran Blake Griffin also gave Nash a pass, recalling times when he played against the Lakers, and Phil Jackson did the same thing.
"I’ve played for coaches who called that quick timeout," Griffin said. "It just depends on your style… You’re going to call a timeout and say what? Play harder? That should just be a thing we visually see and we know to do a better job at. I don’t think he was wrong at all."
The real problem for the Nets was a lack of physicality that led to a 55-38 rebounding margin for the Bucks, which resulted in them outscoring the Nets on second-chance points, 20-9, and gave them 14 more shot attempts than the Nets. The most glaring aspect was that Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo had 15 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass.
"We can’t let guards come in and affect the game the way they did," Griffin said. "I mean, Donte DiVincenzo had six offensive rebounds. That can’t happen. We have to want it more and we have to be a more physical team on both ends of the floor."
Fines for violating media access rules. Kyrie Irving and the Nets organization were fined $35,000 each for violating league rules governing media interview access, the NBA announced on Wednesday. The fines resulted from Irving’s repeated refusal to participate in postgame media availability.