PHILADELPHIA — First the Nets lost their star, then they lost a heartbreaker.
Hours after Kyrie Irving elected for season-ending shoulder surgery, the Nets blew what would have been their best win of the season, squandering a late lead in a 112-104 overtime loss to the 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.
“We had opportunities,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “They made plays. We didn’t.”
At least not when it mattered. In a game in which the Nets trailed by as many 16, then led by 20, this loss will sting.
After DeAndre Jordan, in a stellar turn off the bench for a scoreless and ineffective Jarrett Allen, gave the Nets a 101-95 lead with 2:16 left in regulation, their offense imploded. The Sixers outscored them 17-3 through the rest of fourth quarter and overtime, as the Nets went 1-for-11 with three turnovers.
Caris LeVert had a team-high 25 points and Spencer Dinwiddie added 22 and eight assists. But the Sixers took the ball out of their hands late, or funneled them into Joel Embiid. And the Philadelphia big man dominated the Nets as usual, with 39 points, 16 boards and a block on Wilson Chandler to force overtime, where the Sixers won it.
“They did a great strategy at the end. They made it really tough on Caris and Spencer, [left] Embiid at the rim,” Atkinson said. “They took away our ball handlers’ ability to even get the ball. They denied them almost like a triangle-and-two, just deny, deny those two guys and let other guys make plays.”
The other guys couldn’t. The Nets shot 35.3 percent overall, and went 0-for-7 from the field in overtime, when this one slipped away.
“We’ve just got to keep pushing,” Dinwiddie said. “We obviously played a competitive game. We want to win every single game that we play. We keep building earn our respect in this league taking away the positives and understand how to clean up the negatives.”
Even with the Sixers playing sans Ben Simmons, the Nets came out of the All-Star break flat and unprepared for Philadelphia’s physicality.
Embiid had 11 points in the first 4:53 to spot the Sixers to a 20-4 lead. Atkinson picked up a technical for arguing about the officiating. Then having seen enough of Allen getting worked by Embiid, the Nets coach put in Jordan.
The veteran stood toe-to-toe with the Sixers star, finishing with 14 points, 15 boards and much-needed toughness. The Nets ripped off a 24-6 spurt to take a two-point lead on a Chandler 3-pointer.
That extended run eventually reached 40-10 by the time Allen checked back in with 5:42 in the half. And when Joe Harris took a Taurean Prince feed for a driving layup, the Nets had padded their cushion to 50-30 and the home crowd was booing.
But the Nets couldn’t close this out. Philadelphia cut the lead in half to 52-42 by the break, and erased it altogether by the time Shake Milton converted an and-one for a 76-75 lead.
The Nets retook a 101-95 edge on Jordan’s free throws with 2:16 in regulation, but they didn’t hold it. In a tie game, Dinwiddie dribbled out the clock for the last play and beat his man, but instead of shooting, dished to Chandler who got blocked by Embiid.
“I should’ve just gamed it,” Dinwiddie said. “That was my fault.”
The Nets didn’t make a single shot in OT, scoring their only point on a Dinwiddie free throw. Now they will have to figure out a way to concoct endgame offense knowing that Irving is out for the season.
“That’s really tough. Missing our two big guys for the whole season isn’t where we’d like to be,” Dinwiddie said. “All we can do really is just hope he has a speedy recovery pray for him and what he’s going through with the injury. At the end of the day that’s more important than anything else.”