It was an embarrassing loss Wednesday night in Sacramento … and of the longest losing streak in more than two years.
The final score: 112-101. Call the loss embarrassing or ugly, but at the end of the night, the streak is bigger. It’s the first six-game losing streak in Steve Nash’s history as a head coach, the first six-game losing streak in James Harden’s career, and the longest active losing streak in the NBA. For Sacto, the game ended a seven-game losing streak.
“Our level of play just dropped significantly in the second half,” said Nash after the loss in Sacramento Wednesday night. “Both sides of the ball, we let guys beat us off the dribble at a much higher rate than we did in the first half. We just didn’t make shots. We didn’t make plays. We looked tired frankly.”
Brooklyn crumbles to 29-22 on the season and they’re closer to the play-in tournament — one and a half games — than they are to the top seed — three and a half games. To the Nets head coach, the loss included a mix of everything with an emphasis on tired legs.
“You add it all up, it looked like a tired team in the second half, and the game swung completely the other way,” Nash said.
Without Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge or Joe Harris, the superstar duo of Kyrie Irving and James Harden underperformed. The duo combined for 7-of-26 shooting from the field and 2-of-10 shooting from 3-point range.
“I wouldn’t call it issues. We don’t want to make it bigger than just figuring out how to win a basketball game, cement that blueprint, and then being able to follow that into game after game,” said Irving on fixing Brooklyn’s ongoing slump. “This is a growth period that we’re in, and that’s the way I see it.”
Irving tallied 14 points, three boards, one assist, a steal and four turnovers in 37 minutes. Harden, who Steve Nash said believes “didn’t have his legs” finished with only four points, seven rebounds, 12 assists and a team-high six turnovers.
“Keep chipping away a day at a time. That’s all you can do,” said an obviously frustrated (exasperated?) Harden on overcoming the string of losses. “Come together closer, even tighter. It’s definitely frustrating. It’s definitely difficult but we got to find a way to get out of it as a group.”
“I think we’ve done too much talking,” he added when asked if the Nets need a players-only meeting. Harden also disclosed he had never lost six straight in his 14-year career. And although he didn’t mention it — or didn’t know it — it was Harden’s lowest point total in any game when he played more than 30 minutes. In his career.
Brooklyn’s supporting cast attempted to carry the burden on both ends of the floor, but it wasn’t enough. Nic Claxton had a career night with a career-best 23 points, 11 rebounds, one assist and five blocks, also a career-high, in 29 minutes.
But Nash admitted he had to sub out the young big man due to fatigue during various stretches of the contest.
“My performance doesn’t really matter. We lost the game. That’s what really matters,” Claxton said. “We just got to improve and get better.”
James Johnson, who played the best basketball on the team in the sloppy second half, finished the defeat with a season-high 18 points, three boards, one assist, one steal and a block in 29 minutes.
The Nets were outrebounded, 48-40, but it was, once again, the turnovers that hurt the team the most. The Kings (without star DeAaron Fox) converted 21 points on the Nets’ 14 turnovers.
The shorthanded Nets went with the same starting five of Harden, Irving, Claxton, Patty Mills and Kessler Edwards. The Kings trapped Harden early, throwing a pair of double teams at him, resulting in Nic Claxton (11 points after 1Q) getting rolling early in the short roll. The young big tallied nine points, but the Kings manned an 18-15 lead with 5:42 left in the first.
Brooklyn gained some separation with an emphatic 10-0 burst late. Irving (10 points after 1Q), who drilled back-to-back pull-up threes, led the burst and the late quarter separation lifted the Nets to a 32-23 lead after one.
The Kings hung around in the early minutes of the second but failed to get in front. Sacramento was able to trim the lead down to four points though, but Brooklyn answered. Claxton continued to thrive as Sacramento couldn’t handle his activity around the basket. The Nets also got a barrage of threes by Mills to keep the advantage over a single possession.
The Nets did have an advantage in points in the paint. Brooklyn, led by Claxton with 17 points, tallied 30 of their first 62 points in the paint to help propel them to an eight-point lead at the half (62-54). Irving (12 points) and Mills (11 points were the other Nets in double-figures at the break, boosting Brooklyn’s 55.8 percent shooting from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range.
The play of the first half carried over into the third, but self-inflicted turnovers and carelessness kept the Kings hanging around. Brooklyn’s supporting cast was carrying the offensive load as the team wasn’t getting a lot from their superstar backcourt, but Sacramento cut the lead down to two off a 7-0 burst entering the final three minutes of the period.
The Kings got as close as one point in the final minute of play but Johnson saved the lead, drilling two late baskets to bring him up to 14 points after three-quarters of play, to lift the Nets’ advantage to 86-83.
It got really ugly in the fourth. The Kings opened the quarter on a 9-0 run to take their first lead since the first quarter of the contest. Sacramento continued to get easy buckets with little to no resistance, building their lead to seven with 6:33 left in the final period. Brooklyn played catchup the rest of the way, but the breakdowns on both ends of the court continued to bite the team throughout the remainder of the game.
In the end, the Nets lost their sixth-straight game in ugly fashion.
“We gave up almost sixty in the second half and couldn’t score. There’s not one answer. We played very well the last two games against two top teams and tonight, whether it’s legs or whatever, we couldn’t close the game,” said Nash. “We were up and playing well and had it under control, and then we just didn’t defend and didn’t make shots in the second half.”
Patty Mills’ first 3-pointer of the game was the 162nd of his season, establishing a new single-season career-high for Mills and has now tallied the most threes in the first 50 games of a Nets season, surpassing Joe Harris’ record. He finished 4-of-8 from deep.
Other than Nic Claxton’s career night, described above, that’s it.
As Sponge Bob might say…
And he said it so well.
Thursday night, the NBA will reveal the All-Star Game reserves, selected by the league’s coaches. Expect James Harden to join Kevin Durant, the team East captain.
The Nets will be back in action on Friday, February 4th when the team travels to Utah to face the Jazz. The game is slated to tip at 9:00 p.m. ET.
For a different perspective on Wednesday night’s contest, check out Sactown Royalty — our sister site covering the Kings.