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SAN FRANCISCO — It has taken the Nets just a week to fall apart, dropping from the top of the Eastern Conference to the brink of the play-in.
Their 110-106 loss to the Warriors before a sellout crowd of 18,064 at Chase Center on Saturday left the Nets in sixth place, closer to the play-in than the conference lead.
Playing without James Harden, a late scratch thanks to a right hand sprain, the Nets (29-20) lost their fourth in a row, and are 2 ¹/₂ games behind the first-place Miami Heat. They’re a full game behind the fifth-place Bucks, and just 1 ½ clear of the seventh-place Hornets for the play-in.
Kyrie Irving finished 32 points, seven assists and seven rebounds. He had 21 points in the second half, playing though unvaccinated, over the protestations of Matt Haney, a San Francisco board supervisor. Patty Mills added 24 points, but that — and some tough defense — wasn’t enough.
Golden State (37-13) came in having won four straight and boasting the second-best record in the league. And the Warriors showed why.
The Nets actually did a solid job containing superstars Stephen Curry (19 points on 5-for-18 shooting) and Klay Thompson (16 points on 5-for-14 shooting). But Andrew Wiggins had 24 points and Jordan Poole finished with 17.
The contest tipped off a five-game Western trip that can only be described as murderous for the plummeting Nets.
“At this point, we need to worry about our group, try to triage this thing, keep it as harmonious as possible and look for growth,” coach Steve Nash said before the game. “And whether that comes in wins or losses, it doesn’t matter at this point. We need to continue to improve or look inward and look to grow, rather than worrying where we end up. Because it’s not realistic to follow wins and losses when you not only are missing top players, but you’re changing who’s available from night-to-night.”
The Nets trailed 37-28 with 9:41 left in the first half after Curry found Juan Toscano-Anderson for a reverse. As good as Golden State’s defense was, the Nets’ own ball movement was non-existent. They had just two assists to that point.
But as soon as the ball started moving, the Nets went on a run. They reeled off 11 unanswered points, with assists on all four baskets in the spurt. When DeAndre’ Bembry found Mills for a 3-pointer, it put the Nets ahead 39-37 with 7:56 to go before halftime.
The Nets were still clinging to a 45-43 edge off a driving hook by Irving when the bottom fell out. This time they were on the wrong end of an 11-0 run, capped by an Otto Porter Jr. 3-pointer that left the Nets down 54-45 with 1:39 in the half.
Trailing 54-47 at the half, the Nets opened the third quarter by giving up a 12-2 run that extended the Warriors’ lead to 66-49 on a Kevon Looney layup with 9:15 left in the period.
The score eventually reached 72-53 with 7:20 left in the third on a driving floater by Wiggins, the former No. 1 pick who has seemingly found a home with Golden State. That’s when the Nets started a slow, inexorable climb back, led by Irving.
The All-Star guard had 12 points in an extended 25-6 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters. He scored to cut the lead to 76-72, and Bruce Brown’s put-back layup made it 78-76 entering the fourth quarter.
LaMarcus Aldridge opened the scoring with a nine-foot turnaround hook shot, pulling the Nets even at 78-all. But staying on brand with the way this Nets campaign has gone, Aldridge suffered a sprained left ankle. He limped off the court with 9:53 to play and didn’t return.
The rest of the evening was tooth-and-nail, and nobody could make any headway. It was still deadlocked at 93-all before Curry hit a 3-pointer. Mills answered with one of his own, but Thompson scored to put Golden State back ahead.
Irving had a chance to knot it but hit just one of two at the line; and Thompson’s huge step-back made it 100-97 with 2:16 left.
Once James Johnson missed a 3-point attempt, Curry calmly sank two from the stripe with 1:44 to play to push the Warriors’ lead to five. The Nets never got closer than one, on Irving’s 3-pointer in the waning seconds.