The Nets got a chance Tuesday night to measure where they stand physically against the always-tough Heat, the NBA gold standard for grit.
They can’t like how they measured up.
The Nets were battered on the boards and beaten 106-93 before a sellout crowd of 17,732 fans at Barclays Center.
“We talked about it a lot. It’s an Achilles’ heel for us giving up offensive rebounds. We’ve got to keep working. It’s got to continue to be a priority,” head coach Steve Nash said after his Nets were mauled 17-4 on the offensive glass.
“It’s got to be a priority. You’ve got to want it and you’ve got to make it a priority. You can’t be leaking down the end of the court where you’ve got them coming back in and trying to gang rebound.”
If this was a test, the Nets failed miserably.
Kevin Durant had 25 points, 11 rebounds and played solid defense against the Heat’s Jimmy Butler, and Joe Harris went 5-for-11 from deep while becoming the Nets’ career 3-point leader. But James Harden, who had 14 points and seven boards, was the only Net aside from Durant to top five boards, and that flaw came back to bite them yet again.
“It’s got to be a team effort. You know we have to gang rebound,” Harden said. “We have to make sure we are conscious of gang rebounding and putting bodies on guys. At the end of the day we have to fight.”
The Nets were outrebounded 62-42, and the Heat held a dominant 31-4 edge in second-chance points, which decided the game. It wasn’t so much a case of size or physicality as much as mentality.
“You can’t have two, three guys backpedaling down the other end of the floor watching the ball get banged around in there. We’ve got to come back and help and hit,” said Nash in a sentiment Harden seconded.
“Yeah, that’s just something that we’ve got to preach and talk about every day until guys get it: We can’t go anywhere without getting this rebound as a team,” Harden said. “No matter how tall you are, what your position is, when the shot goes up, you got to go help get the rebound.”
Durant held Butler to 6-for-18 shooting, but Bam Adebayo had 24 points and nine rebounds, and was one of four Heat players with at least eight boards.
The Nets trailed 41-29 with 7:07 left in the first half after Kyle Lowry found Butler for a cutting finger roll.
They mounted a 22-8 rally, starting with Harden’s step-back 3 and ending when he found Blake Griffin for a spectacular alley-oop. That three-point play with a little more than 30 seconds left in the half sent the Nets into the locker room up 51-49.
A Durant 3-pointer was followed by Harris’ record-breaking shot 51 seconds into the second half for a 57-49 Nets cushion. The 3-pointer gave Harris 814 in a Nets uniform, breaking Jason Kidd’s mark set from 2001-08.
But the Nets squandered the lead, surrendering 14 unanswered points. They fell behind 63-57 on a Duncan Robinson 3-pointer, subjected to chants of “Let’s go Heat!” in their building. And even though they pulled within one on another Harris 3 with six minutes to go in the fourth, they never regained the lead, and shot just 38.6 percent from the floor.
So, what’s wrong with this vaunted Nets offense?
“I know what you want me to say,” Durant said with a knowing chuckle. “Yeah, we do miss Kyrie [Irving]. We do. He’s a part of our team. But for the most part, like I said, we’ve been generating great shots, we’ve been getting into the paint. It’s just a matter of us knocking them down. I think they’ll come.”
On this night, Durant and Harris were the only ones knocking down shots.
“It means a lot,” Harris said of his new record. “I’m fortunate for a lot of things, one to be here playing long enough. I’m fortunate the game has shifted in a way where we take a lot of 3s. Then, also, this is a team game: This doesn’t happen if not for a lot of other players and coaches and personnel around me. Individual accolades are great, but they don’t happen if it’s not for everybody else around you.”
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