Nets’ furious comeback bid falls short in Lin, Atkinson debuts
By Brian Lewis
October 26, 2016 | 10:22pm | Updated
BOSTON — On the eve of Kenny Atkinson’s NBA head-coaching debut, he was anxious to see how his Nets would respond, exciting to see what kind of team they’d be. Apparently the answer was intense, gritty and feisty until the end — but ultimately one shot short.
The Nets dug themselves a huge hole and saw their-much maligned bench mount a huge rally, before losing 122-117 in their opener to the Celtics before a sellout crowd of 18,624 at TD Garden.
“[I’m] excited to see our team play some real games, as soon as possible discover who we are and how we’re going to play,’’ Atkinson had said before the game. “From a personal standpoint, it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to it.”
With Brook Lopez all but invisible, the Nets trailed by as much as 23 in the fourth quarter, down 110-87 with just eight minutes left. But they mounted a 30-10 run led by not just starters Bojan Bogdanovic (team-high 21 points) and Trevor Booker, but young reserves Isaiah Whitehead and Chris McCullough.
It’s a moral victory until they can start earning real ones.
“It’s just the attitude we have on the team, when you get in just try to make a good effort, do whatever it takes to win the game,’’ said Whitehead, a plus-12 in his 3:52 on the floor in the fourth. “The guys that were in with me, we just locked down and tried to make as many defensive plays as possible to get back in the game.”
The Nets nearly stole it.
Down 120-114, Bogdanovic cut the deficit in half with a 3-pointer with 46.8 seconds left to play. After Joe Harris stole a bad pass from Boston point guard Isaiah Thomas (game-high 25 points), Bogdanovic lined up a potential game-tying 3 with just 20.9 seconds left. But it missed, as did Justin Hamilton’s corner 3 from the right side.
“I’m not shocked. We didn’t give up,’’ Bogdanovic said. “We show our character. Also our second unit did a great job.’’
The Celtics hit a pair of free throws, and Harris missed a pair of late 3s as Atkinson, a Huntington native, lost his debut.
“I was really pleased [having a clean look to tie], especially with those young guys, the second group coming in and really fighting. We picked up our pressure and got turnovers,’’ Atkinson said. “We want to take the positive out of the fourth quarter.”
Jeremy Lin had 18 points, but just three assists. Lin said the energy Whitehead and McCullough brought should serve as a lesson for Friday’s home opener against Indiana.
“Did I expect it to be a three-point game? No, I didn’t. But that’s what happens. That’s the game of basketball when you play the right way and play that hard,’’ said Lin. “I’ll be honest, starting with me, I want to be able to bring that effort on Friday the way they did the last five minutes of the game. That was inspiring. I want to watch that segment and learn from it.”
What did we learn from Wednesday?
The Nets have talked all preseason about building culture and playing hard. They did that against the Celtics.
But the Nets are struggling on defense, and searching for a way to maximize their biggest star in their new scheme. Lopez had just seven points on 1 of 7 shooting against Al Horford, logging just 21:12 and opening the second half on the bench.
Even if Brooklyn gets Lopez in sync with an offense that heaved up a team-record 44 3-pointers (hitting 15), the bigger issue by far is the defense. Or, more to the point, the complete lack of any.
The Nets let Boston shoot 53.9 percent from the floor — 56.9 percent going in the fourth — and cut them apart with 36 assists on 48 baskets.