SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Kyrie Irving warned that his slumping Nets couldn’t afford to become fragile. Alvin Gentry admitted his Kings were just that, but when they met Wednesday it was the Nets that had the glass jaw.
The Nets led the Kings going into the final quarter, but collapsed in a stunning 112-101 loss before 13,153 at Golden 1 Center. The defeat ran their losing streak to a wretched six straight, and this was by far the most maddening.
It came after the Nets had shown signs of life in tough losses at Golden State and Phoenix, the two best teams in the league. But Wednesday night, they showed precious little fight, conceding a 9-0 run to open the fourth quarter that turned a three-point lead into a deficit from which they couldn’t fight back.
The six-game skid is the Nets’ longest since they dropped seven in a rrow from Dec. 26, 2019-Jan. 7, 2020.
With dates at Utah and Denver still looming on this trip, the Nets clearly couldn’t afford to lose a trap game against a Kings squad that had dropped seven straight. But the Nets proved the tonic for Sacramento.
“Oh, I think we’re really fragile,” Gentry said before the game. “I think anytime you go through a stretch of losing like we’re doing right now, I think the easy thing to do is just give up or whatever. But I don’t think that’s what this team will do.”
Sacramento showed more fight than did the Nets, who got a horrible game from James Harden. Dealing with a right-hand strain, the All-Star guard had 12 assists, but scored just four points on 2-for-11 shooting, and had six turnovers.
Playing without Kevin Durant, Joe Harris and now LaMarcus Aldridge, the Nets have opened their five-game western swing with losses to the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns, the teams with the two best records in the Western Conference, and the Kings, who are 19-34.
Nic Claxton had a career-high 23 points and 11 boards and four blocks, but Harden’s staggering minus-21 undid that good work.
After Anthony Davis of the Lakers and Deandre Ayton of the Suns made comebacks from long layoffs against the Nets this week, it seemed De’Aaron Fox would make it three. But the Sacramento guard, a gametime decision with a sore left ankle, sat out a sixth straight game.
The Kings were clearly bent on stopping Harden, aggressively doubling him early and daring Claxton to beat them. He was happy to oblige.
Some within the organization have felt Claxton had to realize just how good he could become. The third-year center might be figuring that out.
And after the Nets fell behind 23-21 on Davion Mitchell’s finger roll with 2:54 left in the first, they reeled off a 14-0 run that spanned into the second.
Irving hit back-to-back pull-up 3-pointers in transition, and Patty Mills’ 3-pointer capped the run for a 35-23 cushion. But they couldn’t put together enough stops to increase their lead. The Kings even sliced into it on several occasions, to 45-43 on Tyrese Haliburton’s pull-up midway through the second quarter, and again to 80-78 on Harrison Barnes’ 3-pointer with 2:17 remaining in the third.
Mitchell’s corner 3 cut it to 84-83, but James Johnson’s pullup to end the period gave the Nets a three-point edge going into the final period.
It didn’t last as the Nets coughed up nine unanswered points to open the fourth.
Harden’s sixth turnover led to a Buddy Hield 3-pointer and five-point Nets deficit. An ensuing technical foul against Harden handed Hield a free throw that made it 92-86.
The clock read 10:21 to play, but it was over.