If there ever was going to be a moment to stop the phrase “Same Old Nets” from being said, it came late in the third quarter when the Nets were down by three and trying to close an ugly stretch on a good note.
It did not quite work out that way. The Nets never recovered from the third quarter in last night’s 111-86 loss to the Spurs, who continue to find ways to beat Brooklyn no matter the personnel on the court.
“It’s all of us,” Brooklyn interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “We let our emotions affect the way we play. It’s not a conscious decision. It’s not like we’re not going to play any more but we don’t fight back through it. Yes, they had a lot to do with it, their execution was excellent, but offensively the push wasn’t there in the second half.”
The Nets were outscored 30-14 in the third quarter and in two games with the Spurs have been outclassed by a margin of 60-19 immediately after halftime. At least on Dec. 31, the Nets could say they lost to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
Neither player suited up for San Antonio’s 19th victory in 20 games over the Nets and despite not leading for the first 27:51, the Spurs still won going away as Tony Parker totaled 29 points and 11 assists. They held the Nets to 29 points in the second half, using a 10-0 run to take their first lead (63-61) with 8:09 to play on a Tony Parker 19-foot jumper.
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The Spurs never let up as they capitalized on the Nets being a step slow on defensive rotations and even slower in developing offense. Even with those issues plaguing them, the Nets still were within striking distance after Brook Lopez’s 16-foot bank shot with 2:50 remaining in the third made it 72-69.
Nobody had a concrete answer for the reoccurring trend of poor third quarters except that solving the problem comes with improving the effort and attitude when adversity strikes.
“I think it is effort character and heart,” forward Gerald Wallace said. “We got to be able to respond. When things go bad we kind of drop our heads and stop pulling together as a team and we go in five different directions on the court and it shows— our offense staggers, the ball sticks on one side and defensively nobody helps nobody. They basically do what they do offensively and the results are what they are.”
“I think it’s completely an attitude thing,” center Brook Lopez said. “You’ve got to be out there with energy and ready to play. I don’t think our team was.”
For a team with as many veterans as the Nets, even if many are new teammates, it continued a disturbing trend that appeared for most of December in the final weeks of former head coach Avery Johnson’s tenure and one that has reappeared recently. The 30-14 third quarter came 11 days after Miami blitzed the Nets, 36-14, in the third en route to a 105-85 rout.
For the rest of the Nets, it seems more mental than anything, even if they have had games where they have fought back.
“I think we have it,” point guard Deron Williams said. “I think we’ve shown it in a lot of games. It’s almost like we have two different teams and we’re guessing which one is going to show up on a particular night.”
In the faint hope of stopping the Spurs, Carlesimo started the fourth with Joe Johnson, Keith Bogans, C.J. Watson, Kris Humphries and Andray Blatche. The unit scored on its first possession but did little else and when Williams returned the deficit was double digits (85-75).
Williams’s return did little to stem the tide as Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw hit open 3-pointers and Parker floated through the lane for an easy hoop. That made it 93-75 and had boos cascading from the crowd.
“We deserve it,” Williams said. “You can’t be mad at that.”
Believe it or not, the Nets actually had a double-digit lead Sunday night. They led 37-25 after Humphries hit a hook shot on the first possession of the second quarter and then settled for a respectable 57-51 lead at halftime.
After taking their largest lead, the Nets were outscored 86-49 the rest of the way, leaving all those associated with the team to search for an answer.
“I have no idea,” Johnson said. “We were playing pretty good basketball up until about five or six minutes left in the third and they went up by 10 at the end of the third. It’s like we never recovered from it.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.