Nets coach Kenny Atkinson has no idea where the team he saw earlier in the season went, or why it left. But after dropping three straight — the latest Tuesday night after blowing a late lead in a 122-114 loss to the sorry Suns — he would love for that team to come back.
Because the Nets team that has been floundering since last Wednesday’s win over the Cavaliers has now lost consecutive games to the Knicks, Nuggets and Suns — against which they blew an eight-point fourth-quarter cushion before 12,936 at Barclays Center.
“Somehow we got out of rhythm in this past three-game stretch. We felt it all night,” Atkinson said. “I’m not sure where that team I saw in preseason and those first six games [went]. It just seems like we’ve lost the rhythm. I really don’t have an answer for you why that’s happened.”
What happened was the Nets gave up 30 points to Devin Booker, and they gave away the game by going just 9-of-21 from 3-point range and 21-of-30 from the free-throw line. What happened was they got hammered 66-44 on the backboards in blowing the 106-98 edge they held midway through the final period.
“Got to want it more, got to come out and compete no matter what,” said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who had 21 points and seven rebounds. “Height, size doesn’t matter. It’s about who wants it more.”
It was Hollis-Jefferson who hit a running layup to put the Nets up by eight in the waning minutes. But they squandered it, letting Phoenix reel off a game-deciding 18-2 spurt.
TJ Warren (20 points) had a tip-in to put the Suns ahead 109-108, and his putback made it 111-108 with 3:10 to remaining. A pull-up jumper by Mike James (24 points) and Dragan Bender’s wing 3-pointer stretched it to eight, and the Nets never challenged again.
They wasted a game-high 33 points from D’Angelo Russell. But typical of the way this game went, he was a minus-22 after playing sieve-like defense and failing to put any pressure on either Booker or James.
“Fourth quarter they made it happen,” Russell said. “We let them do what they wanted. I think it starts with me, putting pressure on the ball and stuff like that. Spencer Dinwiddie was great and made that happen.”
The Suns improved to 3-4, 3-1 since Jay Traino took over as interim coach after Earl Watson was fired. In addition to his 30 points, Booker added seven rebounds, and after celebrating his 21st birthday Monday night in New York with his friend, Russell, he handed the Nets’ point guard a galling loss.
The Nets, after falling behind 83-65 midway through the third quarter, reeled off a 17-0 run behind Dinwiddie (15 points) and the bench, with Trevor Booker’s putback getting them within a point at 83-82.
And after Troy Daniels hit a jumper to try to stem the tide, Dinwiddie knotted it with a step-back 3-pointer. Brooklyn forced a turnover with 1:14 left in the third, and Dinwiddie pushed the ball up quickly, needing just five seconds for a pull-up 3-pointer in transition that gave them an 88-85 lead.
They pushed it to eight, but couldn’t protect it.
“They went on a run at the end of the game. They just took over. We didn’t make plays,” Atkinson said. “I thought our shot selection was iffy all game. I think we set a Nets record for mid-range contested jump shots. We have to improve our shot selection and that will help our defense, help our spirit.”