As the Brooklyn Nets breezed through a pair of preseason games and two more to open the 2020-21 NBA season, head coach Steve Nash has said that part of the process for a new group to come together — under a first-year head coach new on the scene as well — was eventually learning to deal with a shot of adversity.
They got a little bit of that on Sunday night in Charlotte, with Nash pointing out a lack of urgency in a 106-104 loss to the Hornets at Spectrum Center, Brooklyn’s first loss of the season. With the Nets due back in Brooklyn for the second half of a back-to-back on Monday night, was this a decent time for a little testing?
“As good as any, as long as we bounce back and have a great mentality,” said Nash. “It’s a long season and a long process. Less than 30 days in here, we’re still trying to find ourselves and figure out who we are. They’ve been exceptional thus far with their effort and engagement. Tonight was a little bit of a letdown, but that’s going to happen. When you’re playing basketball almost every day, it can’t be perfect all the time. Slight letdown, but we’ve asked them to bring it every day and they have until tonight. Maybe it was a step below their usual effort, usual tentativeness and engagement, but lot of good things too. And these lessons, you’re right, if you approach them with the right attitude and bounce back and you learn your lessons, that’s the resolve and the growth we’re looking for through this process.”
Down by 16 early in the fourth quarter, the Nets jumped back into the game with a Kevin Durant-led 12-0 run that cut the Charlotte lead to 97-93 with 4:45 to go, and they were within 104-102 with the ball after the Hornets’ P.J. Washington missed two free throws with 22.7 seconds to go.
Durant eschewed a 3-point look to attack the rim, pulling up for a short jumper that was off the mark. Charlotte’s Terry Rozier grabbed the rebound and made two free throws to make it a four-point game with 5.3 seconds remaining.
“I thought it was going in,” said Durant. “It looked good when it left my hands. It was a little right, so maybe I had to touch it up a little bit more. But I liked the shot. Maybe I could've shot the three. You know, after the screen. I've got to watch film. I'm sure we'll get that situation back again throughout the season and I can capitalize on it again. It was good to play in a fourth quarter game again. Play a game that we had to, you know, fight uphill and claw back to get back into the game and was able to make it a late game. They made more plays than us. But it was fun playing in that environment again.”
Durant led Brooklyn with 29 points, shooting 9-of-15 overall and 5-of-7 from 3-point range, and Kyrie Irving had 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting with six assists.
Joe Harris scored 13 points and Caris LeVert added 10 with five rebounds and four assists, while Jarrett Allen had eight points and 14 rebounds, and DeAndre Jordan had 12 rebounds. After injuries that took Spencer Dinwiddie and Jeff Green out of the game, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot came off the bench to start the fourth quarter and played the final 12 minutes, making 3-of-3 3-pointers, shooting 4-of-4 overall and finishing with 11 points.
A 13-0 run had put Charlotte up 97-81 four minutes into the fourth quarter. Durant’s 3-pointer broke the Charlotte run, and he followed up by drawing a foul on a 3-point attempt and making 2-of-3, with an Allen rebound dunk cutting the deficit to 97-88 with 6:00 to go. Durant then found Luwawu-Cabarrot with a skip pass for a corner three, then a cutting Harris down the lane for a layup and a 12-0 run that made it a 97-93 game.
With Charlotte up 99-93, Irving wrapped two scores around a Charlotte score, with his 3-pointer making it a one-possession game at 101-98. Allen made 1-of-2 free throws to make it 101-99 with 2:13 to go.
After a Devonte Graham 3-pointer for the Hornets, another Luwawu-Cabarrot 3-pointer made it 104-102 with 40.4 seconds remaining.
“We got some stops,” said Nash. “We put together a run of stops, which obviously was important, because in the third quarter we gave up so many points, that we had to improve our defense, put together some stops, and then we made some shots, made some threes. TLC made threes, Ky made a couple, Kevin made a bucket or two. We had a good run, but it was too little, too late. I think we have to take a look at ourselves and say we left it a little too late tonight with our intensity. Our guys are winners. They fight, and this is the first day where there’s been any sort of little letdown, whether it’s practice, preseason games, or regular season. So, we’ll learn from it and we’ll get better.”
Durant and Irving combined for 17 of Brooklyn’s final 18 points in the first half, putting the Nets up 50-48 at the break after 13 lead changes and eight ties in the first half. The back-and-forth slowed, but not Charlotte’s early penchant for creating interior looks off drives. While the Nets limited the Hornets to 29.4 percent shooting from 3-point range, they scored 64 points in the paint,
“I think a lot of it was penetration you know? We didn't do a great job of staying down,” said Nash. “I thought that was uncharacteristic. But we let them get in the cracks too much. They got rim attempts which gave them offensive glass opportunities. But you can also say we turned it over 19 times for 23 points; that kills your defense. So they're getting out in transition and getting layups; that's a lot of pain points, that breaks down our defensive principles and everything we try to bring every night. So turning the ball over definitely killed us as well.”