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The Nets’ costly habit of playing down to the lesser teams in the NBA saw them humbled by the worst team in the league Tuesday.
Brooklyn fell 122-111 to the last-place Pistons at Little Caesars Arena, their season-worst third loss in a row.
Kyrie Irving — back from his one-game absence and playing with tape on his injured right index finger — had 27 points and seven assists. But he was visibly fiddling with his finger, and finished just 12 of 28 overall and 2 of 9 from deep. James Harden added 24 points and 12 assists, but committed seven turnovers.
The Nets (14-12) defense got shredded, players eyeing the basketball and losing their men. It’s an issue that has been cropping its head all season.
Brooklyn entered Tuesday 7-1 against teams .500 or above, by far best in the league. The one loss came Saturday in Philadelphia, playing without Irving and Kevin Durant. But against losing teams the Nets are 7-11.
“The bottom line is motivation and desire,” Nash said. “We seem to be more motivated against the better teams. We seem to play with more energy and a sense of desperation. We know we can’t cut corners. Against teams that we take a little lightly we’re willing to cut a corner or two, or take a possession off, or a possession in the first quarter, second quarter doesn’t mean as much as one in the third or fourth.
“So, that’s a very simplistic way of putting it. There’s a lot of details and reasons behind that, and part of it is the schedule, part of it is no fans; you could add a million things to the pot. But ultimately, I think we’re a better defensive team when we’re desperate, and that seems to be coupled with the team we’re playing against.”
If one looked in the dictionary for the definition of a trap game, the Pistons (6-18) would have been the definition.
Still, facing a Detroit team that entered the game dead last in field-goal percentage, the Nets allowed the Pistons to shoot a season-high 55.4 percent. Jerami Grant had a game-high 32 points and Delon Wright added 22.
Joe Harris opened the evening with a 3-pointer, and the Nets immediately surrendered 13 unanswered points. They fell behind by double-digits on Grant’s cutting dunk with 8:47 left in the first quarter.
It was typical for the rest of the opening half.
Brooklyn finished the first quarter down 38-26, the most first-quarter points Detroit had mustered all season, and the Nets made it all too easy for them.
The Nets were in abysmal defensive disarray. Irving regularly got targeted on switches, and Brooklyn’s defenders struggled to keep their men in front of them, letting Detroit drivers get deep and pull their defense apart.
Brooklyn allowed an 8-0 run, falling behind 49-29 on Isaiah Stewart’s 3-pointer with 9:14 remaining in the half.
No player was more culpable than DeAndre Jordan, who got beaten several times. Harden had multiple animated talks with him, first as they sat on the baseline during a timeout, and then as they prepared to take the court.
Then Nash had a long two-minute talk with Jordan after replacing him with Norvel Pelle, and again in what appeared to be a pep talk late in the second quarter.
Brooklyn did rally before the break, with Jeff Green’s driving dunk off an Irving feed sending the Nets into the locker room down just 63-54.
Nash switched things up coming out of intermission, replacing Green with Bruce Brown in a three-guard lineup. The latter’s energy and defense seemed to help, and — with the Nets down by 11 — he had a rebound and two steals in a 7-0 run to pull Brooklyn within 74-70.
Irving’s 3-pointer cut the deficit to 79-77 with five minutes left in the third, but the Nets got no closer. And from the point Landry Shamet tried to challenge Mason Plumlee and got summarily rejected early in the fourth, the Nets conceded a 7-0 run to see the lead bloat back up to a dozen.
A 3-pointer by Saddiq Bey — whom the Nets actually drafted and shipped to Detroit in the three-team deal that brought back Brown and Shamet — left Brooklyn down 101-89 with 8:54 to play. They had nothing left to rally with.
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