For three quarters, the Brooklyn Nets put together one of their strongest defensive outings of the season. But they couldn’t hold off the New York Knicks over the final 12 minutes in a 95-90 loss at Barclays Center.
The Knicks outscored the Nets 31-21 in the fourth quarter, including a 16-2 run that drove them to their first lead of the game.
“They picked up their intensity, picked up their heat on the ball,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “We turned it over, didn’t get the type of shots we wanted. Then they started getting second and third shots. It’s tough to give any team in the NBA multiple shots at the rim, multiple possessions. I think that’s the story of the game really, story of the fourth quarter. Us turning it over and then not being able to control the defensive boards.”
It was one of the Nets stronger defensive outings of the year, the first time they’ve held a team under 100 points since Dec. 14. The Knicks point totals at the end of the first, second and third quarters were season lows by an opponent against the Nets. And the Knicks finished the game shooting just 35 percent from the field and 22 percent from 3-point range.
But in the fourth the Knicks went 11-for-22 (50 percent) overall and 3-of-9 from 3-point range with eight assists against just one turnover.
“Even down the stretch, when the Knicks hit a couple big shots, I thought we played great D,” said Brook Lopez. “We were right in them and we contested. I thought we played those possessions the right way, like we did a lot the game. I thought the second-chance points hurt us a lot. They killed us.”
The Nets made some starting lineup switches, inserting Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Isaiah Whitehead for Trevor Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie. Aside from filling in for an injured Booker on Jan. 10, it was Hollis-Jefferson’s first start since Nov. 23. He had started the first 14 games of the season up to that point.
Hollis-Jefferson led the Nets with 16 points and eight rebounds and had three assists. Whitehead was plus-11 with four points, four assists and four rebounds in 23 minutes.
“I thought Rondae competed hard, had eight rebounds, had some great drives,” said Atkinson. “So I did like that. I thought Isaiah played really well.”
The Nets were up 76-66 with 10:18 remaining before the Knicks went on a 16-2 run to take their first lead of the game and go up 82-78.
Sasha Vujacic’s four-point play in transition — knocking down a 3-pointer from the left side and drawing a foul from Joe Harris — cut the Nets’ lead to 76-74, and a Vujacic jumper made it even.
Justin Hamilton scored inside to put the Nets back up 78-76, but Kristaps Porzingis made 1-of-2 from the line and then scored cutting the basket with a feed from Willy Hernangomez, who also skipped a pass from the paint to Holiday in the corner for a 3-pointer and an 82-78 Knicks lead.
Hernangome, who had eight points, five rebounds and two assists in the fourth quarter, continued to punish the Nets down the stretch. He tipped in an off-the-mark lob pass from Porzingis, then swept across the lane for a scoop that beat the shot clock and put the Knicks up 86-80 with 2:07 to go.
With the Nets within 87-84, Hernangomez put back a rebound to pus the lead back to five with 53.2 seconds remaining. The rookie finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds, while Porzingis had a game-high 19 points and 12 rebounds.
The Nets built a 24-11 lead late in the first quarter. Booker scored six straight Brooklyn points, finishing on a cut off a Caris LeVert drive, putting back his own loose rebound and then posting and rolling into the lane for a little lefty hook to make it 21-11.
LeVert followed with his second 3-pointer of the quarter and the Nets were up 13 with 2:41 to go in the quarter. Over the first 12 minutes the Nets held the Knicks to 7-of-24 shooting (29.2 percent) and New York turned it over six times while going 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
The Knicks pushed their way back into things by outscoring the Nets 20-8 over the first nine minutes of the second quarter, tying the game at 35 on a Courtney Lee free throw.
But from there, the Nets’ young guns finished the first half with a flourish.
LeVert converted on runner through a crowded lane, then found space in the lane on a crossover banked one in off a jump stop. Whitehead stepped back to knock down a 15-footer and Lopez drove the lane for a dunk.
Finally, Whitehead whipped a behind-the-back pass from the elbow to Hollis-Jefferson underneath for the layup that sent the Nets into halftime with a 45-38 lead.
“When me and (Isaiah) are out there, we’re going to bring energy, we’re going to play hard and compete,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “I’m sure everybody saw it.”
The Nets maintained their edge for much of the third quarter with Hollis-Jefferson scoring eight points in the first five minutes of the half, then setting up Lopez with a lob in transition for a layup and a 59-49 lead. After a Carmelo Anthony score, Hamilton’s top-of-the-key 3-pointer had Brooklyn up 62-51 with 4:12 to go in the period.