For the third time in five nights, the New Jersey Nets failed to close out the game.
This time it was the Detroit Pistons that made the late shots and forced the Nets into contested jumpers in the final two minutes. Detroit snapped its five-game losing streak and dropped New Jersey, 97-93.
With the game tied, 91-91, and 45 seconds left to play, Detroit guard Rip Hamilton found Tayshaun Prince for an alley-oop dunk off an inbounds pass.
“That was a drawn up play,” Hamilton said. “We were looking for that; that was my first option. [Stuckey] did a great job of setting the screen to give him a wide open shot.”
The Nets subsequently ran a play eerily similar to the one that failed against Philadelphia in Sunday night’s 83-79 loss. After struggling to penetrate the paint, New Jersey played hot potato around the three-point arc and Courtney Lee forced a three-pointer with the shot clock expiring.
After Hamilton missed one of his two free-throws following a Brook Lopez layup, Devin Harris threw up an airball that would have tied the game with 10 seconds remaining.
The Nets had one timeout remaining but chose to save it with 17 seconds left to play.
“[There was] some confusion with whether we wanted to call timeout and run the play that we had designed. Obviously we didn’t expect [Rodney] Stuckey to miss the free-throw,” Harris said. “For any good look we had, we wanted to take it. [It was] about three feet short, but it was a good look.”
With Detroit struggling, Hamilton credited his team’s resiliency down the stretch in holding off New Jersey.
“We just kept our composure and stayed poised,” Hamilton said. “It was good for us because we just stuck together. We didn’t do anything that we [weren’t] comfortable with doing, so i thought the guys really made plays for each other to get a win.”
New Jersey led, 86-81, after Lee’s three-pointer capped a 10-2 run with 5:35 remaining in the game. Hamilton took over from there, however, scoring nine of his team-high 22 points in the final five minutes of the game.
The Nets squandered significant performances from both Harris and Lopez. Harris, returning from a wrist injury, notched 24 points, 14 assists, and five rebounds. Lopez scored a game-high 27 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Although New Jersey has competed since a rough West coast trip, the team has come up empty in the final minutes of regulation. For Harris, winning late is a learning process.
“At first we’re going through how to compete and to get that point,” Harris said. “Now we’re getting to the point where it’s a close game every night, and now we’ve got to learn the execution part and running plays in situations and how to close out games in the right tense. We’ll get there.”
With Keyon Dooling sitting to rest his hip, the Nets played to Harris’ strengths. New Jersey wanted to speed up the game and use its defense to create scoring opportunities in an attempt to improve a struggling offense.
“[We just wanted] to get it back in transition,” Harris said. “The last couple games we’ve kind of lacked in our transition game. I think we’re most effective when we can score before the defense sets up. I think we showed that today and if we can continue to do that at a high rate, we’ll be alright.”
The Nets led, 48-43, at halftime but suffered another listless third quarter. The Pistons outscored the Nets 28-19 in the third quarter and extended their lead to 73-67. That six-point advantage was their largest of the night.
In this tightly contested game, the Nets led by as many as seven points when a Lee three-pointer gave New Jersey a 42-35 lead in the second quarter.
Jarvis Hayes made his first start of the season, replacing Chris Douglas-Roberts. He scored 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Lee added 15 points while Kris Humphries scored nine points and hauled in 12 rebounds off the bench.
For Detroit, Stuckey scored 21 points and dished out eight assists. Prince added 15 and guard Will Bynum chipped in 10 points off the bench.
Lopez and Harris connection
The Nets came into the game averaging 84.6 ppg in the contests that Harris missed due to his injured wrist.
In addition, Lopez’s numbers dipped without Harris in the lineup. In those five games, Lopez averaged 17.8 ppg. With Harris’ return, Lopez scored a game-high 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting.
Lopez’s an Harris’ games complement each other. The result tonight was large offensive outputs for both.
“I told him today that when he sets the picks and he rolls the way he does, he makes it easier for all of us,” Harris said. “Whether it be me finding him on a roll or the way he opens up shots for Courtney and Jarvis in the corners. That’s when we’re effective, when he rolls. Either he’s scoring the paint, I’m scoring in the paint, or we’re getting open jump shots for our shooters.”