ATLANTA — In the biggest game of the Nets’ season, Kevin Durant gave them the biggest scoring night of his career. And it still wasn’t enough.
The Nets’ 122-115 loss to Atlanta — falling behind and wasting a career-high 55 points from Durant — dropped them to 10th in the East.
“We didn’t play a good ballgame. I can’t really sugarcoat it,” said the always upbeat Steve Nash, who could usually sugarcoat a lump of coal on Christmas.
But not tumbling from eighth to 10th with the loss, and from a double-elimination situation needing just a lone win to clinch the playoffs now into a daunting single-elimination nightmare having to win not once but twice.
Or his Nets coughing up a 14-0 run and never leading again. Or flushing Durant’s career night by committing undisciplined reach-in after reach-in to surrender a 49-19 edge in free throws taken. It’s hard to spin any positives in that.
“That’s just bad basketball. To give them points like that after playing good defense and then boom, reach. We’ve just got to be better in that area,” said Durant, specifying it was on the Nets, not the refs.
“It’s just execution. If you’ve got somebody bottled up and they go up to shoot and right at the last second you [reach], it’s just undisciplined. And we do that a lot. We have guys bottled up, great defense and we end up fouling right at the end. If we want to grow and be a better team, that type of stuff can’t happen.”
The Nets showed they have to get a lot better, and don’t have much time to do it.
Durant shot 19-of-28 and hit a career-high 8 of 10 from deep despite the Hawks selling out and blitzing him constantly. And the Nets squandered it.
Kyrie Irving had 31 points and six assists, but shot just 12-of-32. No other Net cracked double-figures, and they struggled to hold their own on the other end when their switching caught them mismatched on bigs in the paint as well.
“I’ve just got to do a better job down there. And what a time to go into a shooting dip as well. I just want to climb back out of that so we’re not putting so much pressure on [Durant] and it’s just better for our offense,” Irving said.
“I take full accountability of just holding my own down in that post and doing a better job of sending my guy to help or play without fouling. [With a 49-19 edge in free throws]those possessions matter.”
This result matters. And likely will even more come the postseason.
Brooklyn fell from eighth to 10th with just four games left. They’re a game behind Atlanta and behind the Hornets via tiebreaker. If the play-in began now, they’d be on the road at ninth-seeded Charlotte, needing to win and then defeat the loser of the 7-8 tilt (say, Cleveland or Atlanta).
The Nets knew how pivotal Saturday was, and got nine quick Durant points to jump ahead 11-2.
The Nets led 34-29 on an Andre Drummond steal and dunk, but they coughed up a 14-0 run — much of the run with Durant off the floor — and fell behind by nine.
Trailing 57-50 with 1:26 left in the half, they surrendered the final eight points to go into the locker room down by 15.
Durant poured in 19 in the third to will them into it, and Irving’s bank shot got it to 107-106 with 2:32 to play, but Bogdan Bogdanovic made it three and Trae Young (36 points) hit a floater that essentially ended it .
Next they host Houston on Tuesday, a game they can’t blow.
“Go home, and — this is just a metaphor — you go home, you get your bullet-proof vest, you get your handgun, you get your rocket launcher, you get your AK, you get everything,” Irving said. “You load up all the ammo — it’s just a metaphor, people — and get ready for war. And you don’t just live with the results, but you go out there with a mental focus and a no-fear attitude.”