Kiki Vandeweghe stood in front of the Nets’ bench, clapped and told his team to “Focus, guys. Focus.” It was the second half and you could tell the Nets were losing it.
The Knicks had the Nets rattled throughout the second half of a game the visitors had a good chance of winning.
For so much of the game, the Nets looked as if they might be on their way to turning the proverbial corner and building off their first win Friday against Charlotte. But in the end, they looked like the team that lost 18 in a row to start the season.
No, it wasn’t as bad as some of those games and the Nets will get better, but they buckled under when the Knicks turned up their defense and dropped a 106-97 decision in Madison Square Garden.
Put it on the Knicks’ going to a zone defense, which the new regime of interim coach Vandeweghe and lead assistant Del Harris hasn’t covered much, but also on the Nets crumbling when they were hit with adversity.
They rolled out to a 57-44 lead with just under four minutes left in the first half. That’s not a misprint and it wasn’t the third period. The Nets were in the 50s in the opening half and actually put up 61 points at the break.
You could feel the confidence coming from the Nets, the belief that they could do what they wanted and get whatever they wanted. Playing the often-defenseless Knicks will help you feel that way.
But the way everyone was moving and the ball was moving and Devin Harris was getting to the cup and hitting tough shots made it seem like a modest yet major -- considering their start -- two-game winning streak was in the offing. Then the third quarter came.
When the third quarter started, the Nets couldn’t shoot straight and couldn’t stop anyone.
The numbers were 33-18 Knicks. Every stat went in favor of the Knicks in the third -- shooting percentage (61.8 to 36.4); free throws (9-of-10; 0-0); rebounds (13-7), assists (7-5) and turnovers (3-2).
Larry Hughes abused them. Also, Chris Douglas-Roberts had 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. The rest of the Nets were 3-for-14 with seven points in the third.
That’s your ballgame.
“We stopped what we were doing,” Vandeweghe said. “We lost a little bit of focus.”
The Nets were in it in the fourth, down 93-90 with around seven minutes left and a chance to make it one or less. But Douglas-Roberts missed a jumper.
The next several possessions went like this: Keyon Dooling offensive foul, Rafer Alston double-dribble (bad call), Alston missed three, Douglas-Roberts bad pass, Harris bad pass and suddenly the Nets are down nine with about 4:20 left.
“We had a couple of mental errors down the stretch,” Courtney Lee said. “We just turned the ball over. We were doing plays we shouldn’t have been doing at the time. We were trying to come back. We have to just find our chemistry, find our flow that we had in the first half and continue to play like that in the second half.”
The Nets are still finding themselves, still learning a new offense and didn’t have a counter for the zone, so there’s going to be some hiccups. It’s odd to be saying this 20 games into the season, but they’re still getting injured players back and have had a coaching change.
They need some time to grow, but can’t continue to be a team that gets rattled easily. They knew the zone was coming. If they didn’t compound the situation by lagging defensively they might have had a second straight win.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)