The defense was almost as bad as it had been two days earlier — but this time there was no red-hot offense or fourth-quarter comeback to bail the Nets out.
Or to hide their Achilles’ heel.
The Nets took one on the collective chin from the Hawks, a 114-96 loss at Barclays Center on Friday night that put all of their flaws on display.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well, but we didn’t do a lot of other things well,” coach Steve Nash said. “It’s early, and we need more time to drill in the concepts, but both sides of the ball we need a lot of cleaning up. While we’re frustrated, we’ve got to stick with it.”
There was plenty in need of cleaning up after this one.
Sure, Kevin Durant was his usual stellar self, with 28 points and eight rebounds. But though Kyrie Irving finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, he suffered through a poor shooting night: 6-for-21 overall and 2-for-11 from 3-point range.
Joe Harris was the only other scorer in double-figures for the Nets, who hit just 7-for-37 from deep. More ominously, they never found a way to ground the Hawks.
“Credit them for keeping the ball in their hands and finding something in our defense that works,” Durant said. “They stayed in that pick-and-roll all night and were able to keep the ball in their hands and get a good shot up every time.
“We can’t rely on just making shots. Jeff Green said that in the locker room and I totally agree. We’re going to have days where guys aren’t going to make shots, but we’ve got to hang our hat on the defensive side. … Every team in the world says that. It’s easier said than done. But if we stay conscious of that, we’ll get better.”
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 went 16-for-39 from behind the arc.
“We just got away from our principles,” said Green, who joined Durant, Irving and Nash in speaking in the locker room. “We allowed them to space us out, which allowed them to get in the lane a lot. We got away from helping each other, from being in the paint and being aware of the personnel. It got away from us.
“It wasn’t anything special. It was just that we need to stick together and on nights like this we have to come together and focus on our defense.”
Despite a poor start, the Nets somehow trailed just 29-27 with 11:06 remaining in the first half. But they yielded a 19-5 run, as their defense was picked apart by Clint Capela. He had three dunks during the surge and his tip-in with 7:42 left put the Nets in a 48-32 hole.
The Nets (3-3) went into the locker room down by nine, and Irving’s 3-pointer to open the half cut the deficit to 61-55. But the momentum was short-lived.
Clinging to hope with just a 74-68 deficit after a Harris corner 3, the Nets were outscored 15-5 over the last 5:51 of the third quarter.
The Nets fell behind by 19 on a Brandon Goodwin 3, and the deficit swelled to 97-77 on Kevin Huerter’s 3 with 8:33 left. It was a sorry defensive display, one the veteran leadership spoke up about in the locker room.
“It sticks more because your ears are more open because you’re thinking about what just happened,” Green said. “So, the message had to be said — coming from whether it was me, Kyrie when he spoke, coach Nash, Kev. We all chipped in. We all realized what went wrong.
“That’s the best part: We’re understanding what we need to do to accomplish what we want.”
Harris acknowledged as much.
“It was received well because what he said was 100 percent accurate,” Harris said. “We know what we have to clean up and we have to be a little more sound on the defensive end, because offensively we’re not going to have problems on that end. A lot of it is going to be us shoring up some things defensively.”