Second half dooms Nets in loss to Spurs
San Antonio (40-12) was playing without both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili due to injury, but Tony Parker had 29 points and 11 assists to lead five Spurs in double figures and make San Antonio the first team in the NBA to reach 40 wins.
Tiago Splitter added 13 points and nine rebounds while getting extra minutes in Duncan's absence, and Matt Bonner chipped in an 11-point night off the bench that included shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.
For Brooklyn (29-22), Joe Johnson led the way with 19 points, Brook Lopez added 18 and nine rebounds, and Deron Williams chipped in 15 in a losing effort that saw the Nets get outscored 60-29 in the second half after leading by six at halftime.
"(San Antonio's) execution was excellent, but offensively, the push wasn't there in the second half. A lot of the things we did well early, we stopped doing, and we got very careless with the ball. We started out doing a good job finishing inside, and then we got away from a little bit of that, too," Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said in explaining the loss.
Having to make that explanation surprised Carlesimo, who admitted in his post-game media conference that he was puzzled as to how it all went south so quickly.
"I was surprised tonight because I thought we had a really good shoot-around, and I thought we had a really good attitude and understanding in terms of what we had to do, mainly in the first half," Carlesimo said.
The Nets were firmly in control in the game's first 12 minutes, leading by as many as 12 and ending the period up 35-25 behind 63.6 percent shooting. However, that's when San Antonio got hot, shooting 62.5 percent in the second to cut the lead to 57-51 at halftime, and Carlesimo admitted after the game he was still quite optimistic at that point.
"We did a lot of things we wanted to do pretty well in the first half; we pushed the ball, we played at a higher tempo…we lost a little of that in the second, but the feeling was had we played a little better, we could've been up even more," Carlesimo said.
However, as seems to be the case in many Nets losses this season, things fell apart in the third quarter, especially as the Spurs got even hotter. San Antonio shot 63.2 percent and outscored Brooklyn 30-14 to take an 81-71 lead after three, and in that 12 minutes, Brooklyn seemed to have extreme trouble with Tony Parker, who scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and dished out five assists while exploiting Brooklyn's defense on numerous pick-and-rolls.
"We had trouble guarding Tony all game; our strategy was to get as much help defense on him as we could, play his pick-and-rolls, and make him beat us outside," Carlesimo said of Parker after the game, "but he's playing at a high level and we didn't do a very good job."
"Putting him in the pick-and-roll was tough on us tonight; he was putting a lot of pressure on us," Deron Williams added. "They were setting a little screen and then rescreen and it was really tough for us to defend tonight. Not only was he getting into the lane, but he was also making things happen for everyone else."
Another 30-15 quarter – one that saw the Spurs shoot 66.7 percent – finished off the game for San Antonio, and Carlesimo was left to ponder where it all went wrong.
"When a good team makes a run or has us back on our heels…we didn't respond the way we needed to respond," Carlesimo said. "It's all of us…we let our emotions affect the way we play; it's not a conscious decision, but we don't fight back through it."
That said, Carlesimo was then asked why these malaises have seemingly become a recurring story in Nets losses this year, a question the interim coach answered with a definitive statement.
"It has been a recurring theme, but it's not like every time we get down (we hang our heads); we've had some games where we hung in and did some good things," Carlesimo said, "but there's been a number of these, which you just can't have, even against the best team in the league. In our own building, you can't do that…it's not acceptable. We need to be better."
Following Carlesimo's press conference, Joe Johnson also spoke on the Nets' malaises, echoing the statements made by his head coach.
"I thought we had pretty much figured out our identity and it seemed like everything was going well, and now it seems the past few games we just have been in a little funk," Johnson said, "and it's unacceptable." The Nets won't have to wait long for a chance to get back on track, as they are headed to Indianapolis to take on the Indiana Pacers Monday night in the second half of a home-road back-to-back before finishing out the nominal first half on Wednesday against Denver at Barclays Center.
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