Nets’ defensive flaws were on full display in loss to Hawks

This time there was no fourth-quarter Nets comeback, no great escape against the Hawks. Just a 114-96 loss, and another leaky defensive outing that put the Nets’ flaws on display.

On Wednesday, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had poured in a combined 33 points in the final period to help steal a victory over Atlanta. But two days later, when the Hawks got the Nets down, they kept them there.

Sure, Durant was his usual stellar self, with a game-high 28 points and eight rebounds. But Irving — despite 18 points — suffered through a poor shooting night, going just 6-for-21 overall and 2-for-11 from 3-point range. Joe Harris was the only other Net in double-figures with 12 points.

The Nets hit just 7 of 37 from deep, and never found a way to really slow the high-scoring Hawks. De’Andre Hunter (23 points), Trae Young (21 points, seven assists) and John Collins (20 points, eight boards) led six players in double figures for Atlanta, which shot 46.2 percent overall and 16-for-39 from 3-point range.

The Nets are clearly still getting used to each other and to a new aggressive, switch-happy defense.

“It’s all so new. It’s a new scheme for our guys. A lot of them are teammates for the first time, or haven’t played very much together at all. So both are valid. I also think it’s been a really short preseason,” coach Steve Nash said. “We’ve done pretty well defensively up until last outing.

“There was slippage. You add it all up, to go along with not only Atlanta’s ability, but their hot start, and it tore us apart a little bit. I’d say all those things are a factor. It’s something we have to build and chip away at all year.”

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant drives the ball to the basket for the Nets.
Robert Sabo

Despite a poor start, the Nets somehow found themselves down just 29-27 with 11:06 remaining in the first half on Taurean Prince’s free throws. But their luck ran out.

They allowed a 19-5 run as their defense was picked apart by Clint Capela, who had eight points — three dunks and a layup — as well as two rebounds and an assist during the Hawks surge. And by the time Capela fought for a tip-in with 7:42 left before the break, the Nets found themselves in a 48-32 hole — one their defense left them little hope of escaping.

The Nets had surrendered 56 percent shooting in falling behind by 16, and they had missed all 11 attempts from behind the arc themselves.

They didn’t hit a 3-pointer until Durant finally got one to go down 6:57 before halftime. It left the Nets trailing 48-37, and they went into the locker room down by nine.

Irving’s 3-pointer to open the second half — after he had missed all five attempts in the first — cut the deficit to 61-55. But the momentum was short-lived.

After the Nets got within 74-68 after a Harris corner 3-pointer off a Durant feed, the Hawks put together a 15-5 run over the last 5:51 of the third quarter.

The Nets fell behind 89-70 on a Brandon Goodwin 3-pointer, and never challenged again. The deficit swelled to 97-77 on Kevin Huerter’s 3-pointer with 8:33 to play, and the rest was garbage time.

“It’s just being more disciplined, trusting in the guys behind you,” Harris said of the defense. “We were in scramble mode [Wednesday] where one thing would break down and guys would kind of abandon principles, and we were sort of scrambling around for most of the game, honestly.

“Just cleaning up a few of the things there, just trying to be in better position and again, just having a little more faith and trust in the guys behind you and trusting the principles.”

That the Nets got lost on switches and gave up offensive rebounds was far more concerning than their shooting. Struggling from deep is a fluke, and the proven shooters on the roster likely will revert to the mean. But the other flaws are more worrisome.

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