The Nets didn’t have to worry about setting up a late shot for Joe Johnson or anyone else.
They didn’t get an opportunity to figure that part of the game out because they couldn’t solve some important issues on the defensive side such as perimeter defense or defending a steady stream of pick-and-rolls.
Instead, the Nets had a four-game winning streak stopped with Friday night’s 106-96 loss to the Rockets.
“We miss Joe a lot,” forward Gerald Wallace said. “Joe’s obviously the key to our offense. I don’t think him would have been a big difference. Our main thing was we didn’t make shots and play the pick-and-roll.”
Johnson missed his first game of the season with a sore left heel, which the team believes is not serious.
The Nets gave up a season-high 16 3-pointers, while allowing the Rockets to shoot 53.2 percent. They did so while focusing mostly on James Harden, who scored 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting after torching Oklahoma City for 46 points on Wednesday.
“We really defended so much better in the second half,” interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “Unfortunately when it got close, we got lost for a couple of backbreaking threes. But we played so much better in terms of what we were trying to do in the second half.”
Harden pushed the game in the wrong direction at the end of the third quarter with seven straight points to make the score 84-75 heading into the fourth. The Rockets built the lead to 90-75 early in the fourth but when it came down to getting the biggest shots, it was Carlos Delfino joining forces with Harden.
Delfino also scored 22 points and hit six 3-pointers, most which went uncontested due to poor rotation.
“I thought the guys that were guarding James did as good a job as they can do,” Carlesimo said. “Carlos got away from us too many times.”
Besides the defensive breakdowns, the Nets also lost because the other two members of the offensive trio were not factors down the stretch.
Brook Lopez had 27 points, but sat for the first six minutes of the fourth and scored one basket in the quarter. Deron Williams had 15 points, but took one shot in the fourth and missed nine of his last 10 shots while going 5-of-17 overall. He played 40 minutes just a day after getting his third round of cortisone shots for his ailing ankles.
Williams appeared to tweak his right ankle in the third quarter but said he was fine.
“I missed some shots,” Williams said. “I couldn’t get anything going in the second half.”
Even with the ongoing defensive issues, the Nets still had a reasonable chance to win. They had two chances to tie the game but committed a 24-second violation with 3:21 remaining and then saw Keith Bogans misfire badly on a 3-point attempt from the left corner.
Bogans’s 3-pointer would have made it 97-97, but Delfino grabbed the rebound and hit an open 3-pointer with 1:54 left by taking advantage of a slow rotation by Mirza Teletovic. Lopez scored on a reverse layup with 1:39 remaining but Delfino hit a 20-footer from above the left elbow after another poor rotation on the ensuing possession.
Houston iced it on the next two possessions as Harden rebounded Teletovic’s missed 3-pointer with 1:01 remaining and hit a 3-pointer over Bogans with 39.8 seconds left.
“We made a few runs but couldn’t get over the hump,” Lopez said. “We were right there.”
“This was a winnable game for us,” Williams said. “Those shots at the end just killed us.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.