The Nets didn’t just lose a game for the first time this season. They lost starter Spencer Dinwiddie. And their air of invulnerability, too.
Brooklyn got upset 106-104 at rebuilding Charlotte on Sunday night, in a game that saw Dinwiddie suffer a right knee strain and not return.
The Nets came out flat, fell behind by 16 and rallied, but it was too little, too late.
After opening the season with a blowout win over Kevin Durant’s old Golden State team, and an even more impressive laugher in Kyrie Irving’s return to Boston, the Nets couldn’t build on that momentum. While rookie coach Steve Nash said beforehand they hadn’t had a bad practice, they sure had a bad game.
While Durant (29 points) and Irving (25) were their usual selves — the first Nets’ duo in team history to top 20 points each in the first three games of a season — the rest didn’t hold up their end. No other Nets mustered more than 13 points, and the effort level wasn’t what it needed to be against the hungry Hornets.
Jeff Green was forced from the game in the fourth quarter, needing stitches in his face. And the Nets lost Dinwiddie when he went down awkwardly trying to plant and immediately grabbed at his knee. He did manage to walk off under his own power with 10:12 left in the third, but he was clearly favoring the injured knee and headed back to the locker room.
Brooklyn was down just 84-81 on Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter when they capitulated. They allowed 13 straight points, with a step-back 3-pointer by Miles Bridges capping the run and leaving them in a 97-81 hole.
The clock read 7:59 to play, but it was over.
The Nets did try to mount a rally with a 10-0 run. A Jarrett Allen dunk midway through the fourth cut it to 97-88, and another Luwawu-Cabarrot 3-pointer off a Durant assist pulled them within six.
Durant found Joe Harris for a cutting layup and trimmed the deficit to 97-93 with just 4:45 remaining. After a Charlotte bucket, Irving cut it back to four and then to 101-98 on a pull-up 3-pointer with 2:44 remaining.
Allen extended the run to 18-4, going one-for-two from the foul line.
But ex-Net Treveon Graham came back to haunt his former team by rattling home a corner 3. And Brooklyn never got over the hump.
Trailing 101-99, Irving had his shot blocked for a transition chance the other way. Luwawu-Cabarrot’s 3 did pull them within 104-102 with 40.4 seconds to go, and they had a great chance after PJ Washington missed both free throws.
Durant got a great look off a two-man game with Irving, an open 9-foot baseline pull-up. But it rolled around and out with 7.4 seconds left in regulation; and Terry Rozier’s free throws ensured there would be no overtime.
Now the Nets return home for the second half of a back-to-back, hosting Memphis on Monday. It starts a six-game, 11-day homestand. It remains to be seen how much of it Dinwiddie will miss.
Dinwiddie did tear his ACL in college, but that was in his other (left) knee. And the guard has not only been starting in the backcourt this season alongside Irving, but also been one of their most reliable and durable players. His only significant time missed came back in 2018-19 when surgery on his right thumb cost him about five weeks.
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