It was a little over a month ago the Nets took the court. Granted it was still preseason, but the crowd was filled with anticipation about what the new roster could do.
Since then, it has been a monumental struggle.
The Nets took another negative step Sunday afternoon as they were doomed by another bad third quarter in a 109-97 loss to the Pistons in a game that did not see Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett appear for the first seven-plus minutes of the fourth quarter.
“I think we are all disappointed,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “The third quarter is something that stands out right now that we got to better at — coaches and players. We’re getting good looks; we can’t finish the play.”
Joe Johnson did what he could offensively, with a season-high 34 points, but Pierce and Garnett made little impact. Pierce finished with 18 points on 5-of-13 shooting while Garnett had four points on 2-of-9 shooting.
“To be honest, I can’t even put my finger on it,” Garnett said. “If I knew, I would share with the guys in here [the locker room]. It’s an ongoing thing and it’s something that I don’t know.”
The Nets dropped to 3-10 and lost their fifth straight since losing Brook Lopez to a sprained ankle Nov. 15 in Phoenix. Lopez’s absence was felt since the Nets had few other scoring options inside and few ways to combat the Pistons from doing so.
The postgame theme was consistent with staying together, being positive and acknowledging these types of games are not acceptable. But as Pierce said, “It’s not about saying, it’s about doing.”
“We say it,” Pierce said. “Obviously we say it, but our actions have to speak louder than words.”
“We do a lot of talking,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t change the way we are [playing] on the court. It’s very embarrassing at this point.”
The Nets made points in the paint an emphasis in preparation for Sunday, though they did not hold practice following a 30-point loss in Minnesota on Friday. However, hearing coaches discuss that category did not seem to sink in.
The Nets were outscored 56-22 in the paint, and outrebounded 44-35 while turning it over 18 times for 29 Detroit points.
Yet even in spite of those numbers, the Nets took a 51-44 lead into halftime. It would have been a 10-point lead but Andray Blatche made the mistake of fouling Greg Monroe with two-tenths of a second remaining and the Pistons essentially got three free points.
Blatche’s gaffe was nothing compared to another poor third quarter, a period that has seen the Nets get outscored by 48 points this season entering Sunday.
The Nets were blitzed 34-15 in the third, turned it over eight times, were outscored 20-0 in the paint and shot 5-of-19. The Pistons converted those turnovers into 10 points, mostly in the paint, as they shot 10-of-11 there while the Nets were 0-for-7 in the paint during that time.
“We should be winning all, sh—, all of these games,” Blatche said. “It’s very frustrating and it’s very, very, very embarrassing. I don’t know. There’s no excuses. We’re all just playing bad.”
“We got to be the worst team in the league when it comes to third quarters, just unacceptable,” Garnett said. “As players we have to be accountable, including myself, and come out and do whatever it is that we got to do and apply it.”
Nobody seems to have a definitive answer for what happens in the third quarter. The common answers are “lack of energy” or “not making adjustments when teams become more aggressive.”
“I think tonight it was just clear cut: transition,” Kidd said. “We couldn’t get back, so we got to address that. We got to look at it. If it’s changes or whatever it may be but we got to be better in starting that third quarter.”
For most of the game, the fans restrained themselves from booing but it was noticeable when Pierce missed an easy reverse layup late in the third and they hardly could be thrilled when the fourth quarter began with Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic, Toko Shengelia, Tyshawn Taylor and Mason Plumlee on the court.
The Nets were within 96-88 on a wide-open 3-pointer by Johnson with 4:48 left. On their next possession he missed a mid-range jumper. Pierce and Garnett returned at the 4:02 mark and Johnson hit another 3-pointer for a 96-91 deficit with 3:19 remaining.
Moments later, Monroe easily soared in for a basket, Garnett blew a second-chance layup and portions of the crowd headed for the exits.
“I think everybody in here is embarrassed,” Garnett said. “You definitely don’t want that at home. Like I’ve been saying, we’re going to continue to work to try to change this as best we can.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.