Caris LeVert fronted a can’t-miss third quarter for the Brooklyn Nets with a run that wiped out the remains of a 22-point deficit, but Brooklyn came up short down the stretch in a 115-110 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum Friday night.
LeVert put up 43 points for the second-highest scoring game of his career, shooting 15-for-23 and 7-of-9 from 3-point range, plus six assists and five rebounds.
“It’s awesome. This is nothing new for Caris,” said Joe Harris. “He’s obviously had a ton of big games before, but he really had it cooking today. I kind of wish we would have put him in some better spots there at the end because he had such a hot hand. But, again, Memphis did a good job taking things away from him and hedging out, doubling, just getting the ball out of his hands. A lot of that is more so on us, trying to put him the right spots, where he’s able to get a little bit more room to facilitate and at least not have to go into a double. At the end of the day, he played amazing, and he’s really the reason why we got in the spot to even contest to win this game.”
LeVert had 19 of those points in Brooklyn’s 39-point third quarter, a period in which the Nets shot 13-for-19 and made seven of eight 3-point attempts. And with 11.4 seconds left in the game, LeVert’s step-back 3-pointer gave the Nets one last chance, bringing them within three before Memphis rookie Desmond Bane sealed the game with a pair of free throws.
The Nets held their last lead at 104-102 after Landry Shamet made his second 3-pointer in just over a minute, but they stalled there as Memphis ran off nine straight points until a Harris 3-pointer made it 111-107 with just under a minute to go.
“I think we turned the ball over a little bit,” said forward Jeff Green. “We allowed them to get out in transition, they got open looks made a couple 3s. (De’Anthony) Melton made a corner 3 that put them up, I wanna say 6. So I think, but I'm not going to sit here and make excuses about the last couple minutes. We just allowed them to get back into the rhythm they had at the beginning of the game, which got them the lead. We fought our way back but we allowed them to get that rhythm and they pulled away again. They made their run and they got their stops when they needed to.”
Taurean Prince scored 16 points, Harris had 13, and Jarrett Allen finished with 12. Green had nine points and nine rebounds.
Despite a dismal first half in which the Nets made just 3-of-15 3-pointers and shot 36.4 percent overall, they finished up shooting 45.2 percent from 3-point range for the game and 46.9 percent overall. They also made 20-of-21 free throws.
“We never took ourselves mentally out of the game,” said Green. “We stayed focused, we kept our composure and we just fought back. And that's what coach wanted us to do. For us that's what we want to do as well. In the end we just dug ourselves too deep of a hole, we clawed back, got I think it was four but they just made shots at the end.”
The Grizzlies jumped out to 40 points in the first quarter, controlling the backboards and shooting 55.6 percent overall and 66.7 percent from 3-point range while the Nets struggled to get going offensively.
Brooklyn got into a firmer defensive standing in the second quarter, limiting Memphis to 9-of-25 shooting and zero 3-pointers on six attempts, but the deficit still stretched as the Nets searched for offense. Brooklyn made just one of its first eight shots in the second quarter as the Grizzlies went up 50-30 with 7:37 to go in the half.
The Nets were down 62-40 before they scored the final seven points of the half, all from the free throw line, to go into halftime down 62-47. They were still down by 18 in the third quarter when they took off on a 20-4 run capped by two LeVert 3-pointers that brought them within 76-74. After Xavier Tillman scored for Memphis, Levert hit another 3-pointer, then found Allen rolling to the rim for the lay-in and a three-point play, putting the Nets up 80-78.
Two more LeVert threes had the Nets up 86-84 before Memphis closed the quarter with an 8-0 run to take a 92-86 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I think more importantly we had more energy,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash of the third-quarter turnaround. “First half we were a little flat and came out, got down 20-something. Just a step late mentally and physically. Third quarter though, they came out and fought. It was crucial for us to have that little six, seven point run at the end of the first half to get it down to 15. They came out with energy in the third. Caris made some big shots, TP made some big shots, and found ourselves right back in the end all the way to up four. We definitely made, there was some tough shot-making, but the energy and the desire was there, so I was proud of them in the second half.”
With Memphis up 94-88 early in the fourth, the Nets got a Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot free throw, a Harris jumper, and a Luwawu-Cabarrot jumper to make it a 94-93 game, before Memphis connected for consecutive 3-pointers to go up 100-93 with 7:23 remaining.
LeVert returned right there out of a timeout and immediately found DeAndre Jordan leaking out for a dunk, drove the lane for a three-point play, then snared a defensive rebound and fed Shamet for an open 3-pointer and a 101-100 lead with 5:40 to go.
“Just thought it was overall a step slow mentally and physically in the first half, and I think that was the biggest problem,” said Nash. “They got where they wanted. We, maybe a little lethargic out of the gates, and you’ve got to put two halves together. We didn’t play well in the first half. It’s not necessarily one thing. You could attribute it to a bunch of things I think, but at the root of it, it was just, we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be mentally and physically, and we were a step late on too many scenarios. That’s what gave them a big lead in the first half. Obviously we had a good second half, but come down here on the road, long flight, we’ve got to put two halves together.”