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Inexcusable: Nets fall to depleted Pistons, 113-109

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Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Both teams were playing the second night of a back-to-back. The Detroit Pistons were missing Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose. Brooklyn had momentum after a monster victory over the tough Houston Rockets on Friday night. This was their game for the taking.

But they couldn’t get it done. And it was inexcusable.

The Nets held a 14-point lead with 7:10 left in the third. With 8:38 left in the fourth quarter, the Nets found themselves down 13. It’s become a common theme with the Nets - not only this year - but in the past as well. They take big leads and then take their foot off the gas pedal.

Detroit wanted it more.

“We have to do it for longer periods, we’re doing it in stretches. [In] the second half, I think physically, mentally, [they] outplayed us,” said Kenny Atkinson after the game. “I don’t know how many loose balls they got over us. I didn’t count them. There were a lot of 50/50 balls we did not get.”

Caris LeVert, who started picking up momentum, checked out around the 8:30 mark of the fourth and never saw the floor again. He finished with 14 points and six rebounds on the night, a big reason why the Nets went up big in the second quarter. Atkinson said he thought Spencer Dinwiddie’s size would help on defense.

“It was matchups defensively. Spencer we wanted to put on [Bruce Brown], who was really hurting us. It was more that than anything,” said the coach.

And so, the Nets had to dig themselves out of a hole.

In came Kyrie Irving down 13. Behind his lead, the Nets went on an 11-2 run with one pleasant sequence after another getting everybody involved: Joe Harris three-pointer, DeAndre Jordan alley-oop and Spencer Dinwiddie floater.

Just like that, the Nets were down three, then one, following a block from Jordan and two free throws from Irving. Luke Kennard shredded the Nets in the pick-and-roll all night, and hit a floater to go up three with 28 seconds left.

It became a game of free throws from there on out. Dinwiddie missed one-of-two at the line, putting the Nets at a disadvantage. Then, the Nets had a shot down 111-108 with six seconds left, but Taurean Prince missed the second on purpose and Andre Drummond sealed the deal with two free throws to go up four with three seconds left.

Drummond destroyed the Nets yet again with 25 points and 20 rebounds, while Kennard dropped 24 points. Irving wasn’t very active in the scoring department until the fourth, and yet he finished with his third career triple-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

It was the third triple-double of his career. He also had triple-doubles last March 14 against the Kings while with the Celtics and on February 28, 2014 against the Jazz while still with the Cavaliers.

We’re only six games in, but these are the types of losses that sting. It’s the third loss in which free throw shooting — late in games — has doomed them. Not to mention the disappointing defense and random lapses that allow teams back into the game.

The offensive balance was there.

Taurean Prince finished with 20 points on 5-of-8 shooting from deep but grabbed only one rebound. He’s now averaging 15.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and shooting 44.4 percent from deep. Joe Harris chipped in 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, while Dinwiddie dropped 16 off the bench. LeVert put home 14, but for the second time this season, was benched in the final stages of a close game.

Now, Monday at home vs. New Orleans feels like a must-win for the Nets. It’ll be their third game in four days before they head out on a five-game West Coast trip. It’s hard to blame one or two things in these losses.

“It’s tough. We’re not feeling the best, everybody even us expected us to do better than now,” said Jarrett Allen. “But we also know our time is coming. We’re going to get past this.”

Irving said the Nets have to get used to being the hunted rather than the hunted.

“That’s something you’ve got to relish and be excited & know how to manage. I’m used to it, guys having unbelievable games and tail off after they play us,” said Irving. “It just takes time to get into that frame of thinking every time you’re playing.”

The Nets, through six games, have shown that they’re extremely volatile. Whether they’re up by double digits or trailing late. The defense has been disappointing; The offense is inconsistent at time; The free throw shooting late has been horrid; And some of the rotations have been head scratching.

It’s too early, but you have to get these ones. And the Nets haven’t thus far.

CLAXTON HEADS TO LONG ISLAND

The Nets have assigned draft pick Nicolas Claxton to Long Island. Unlike the up-and-down assignments of players like Dzanan Musa and Theo Pinson, this one seems long-term with the Nets planning on the near 7-footer spending time in the G League starting next week.

Media Day for Long Island is Wednesday and the season opener is next Saturday vs. the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in Fort Wayne.

Meanwhile, Long Island made its first cuts, Dupree McBrayer and Myles Stephens. McBrayer was signed after the Nets open workout while Stephens was a second round pick out of Princeton. He was one of two Princetonians on the Long Island roster. Devin Cannady remains on the roster.

No word yet on who the Nets will sign as a replacement for Wilson Chandler. With little to no practice time on the Nets upcoming road trip, it would seem like Monday would be a good day to announce the signing.

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For more on the game from the Pistons perspective, head on over to Detroit Bad Boys, our sister site on SB Nation.

Next up: Pelicans at home on Monday, 7:30 PM ET.