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The next task for the Brooklyn Nets is finishing the job

Another fourth-quarter comeback ends in another tight loss for Nets

This is the hard part, is what Kenny Atkinson has been saying.

Consistency. Closing out games. It’s a challenge for a young and growing team.

After Wednesday night’s 100-95 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Nets have dropped six of their last seven following two last-minute wins against Orlando and Minnesota.

Included in that stretch are losses to Boston, Toronto and San Antonio. Two of the six losses came in overtime.

“I feel like we’re getting closer,” said Atkinson. “This is San Antonio, Toronto and Boston, these are elite teams in our league and there are no moral victories. But I do think they’re encouraged, we’re improving and getting better. Like on a night like tonight, we got better.”

This time, the Nets were down 15 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Then came a barrage of threes from Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe. Five in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter brought the Nets within four points. They were down 91-88 under two minutes, but Tyler Zeller missed in close and Harris missed a three. San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge rolled down the lane for a three-point play that capped his 34-point night and that mostly did it.

“It’s been tough,” said Harris. “We’ve been in this position what seems like a lot, where it’s just a matter of executing down the stretch both defensively and offensively. We play really well, we’re able to climb back into it, and then we have lapses in judgement. Not sure exactly what it is. But these experienced teams, they seem to find a way to win.”

The NBA defines “clutch” games as games with a five-point margin with less than five minutes to go. That leaves things open for a lot of different endings. With 29 “clutch” games, the Nets are second in the NBA in tight finishes. With an 11-18 record, they’re in the bottom third of the league in winning percentage in those games.

“I understand we’re knocking on the door and improving and playing well and playing well against elite teams, but none of our guys are satisfied,” said Spencer Dinwiddie. “We’re all frustrated. We continue to lose. We want to be better. We’re going to be better. We just have to learn and put things together so we can actually get wins, and not just be close.”

The twist to all this is that over their last 10 games, the Nets have been one of the NBA’s best fourth quarter teams. Since New Year’s Eve, they’re fourth in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring with 28.5 points per game. The Nets are fourth in offensive rating at 114.3 and 12th in net rating in fourth quarters at 3.2.

With the exception of a loss to the Knicks that is the real outlier in this stretch, the Nets have been terrific in the fourth quarter for over two weeks. They’ve routinely battled back from double-digit deficits.

The Nets were down 11 in the fourth quarter against Toronto and 23 in the second quarter against Washington and forced overtime both times. They’ve fought to get themselves back in games. The next step is finishing them out.

“His big thing is just staying with it one day at a time,” said Harris of Atkinson’s postgame message to the team. “We can dwell on these tough losses that we’ve had, but we’re making steps in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep hammering away at it and hopefully these tough experiences where we haven’t been able to win down the stretch, execute down the stretch, being in this position is going to be beneficial for us for a young team going forward.”

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