Carter was rolling along, seemingly on his way to a 40 or even 50-point night. He had 21 with 10:46 left in the third after scoring 19 during an 8:32 stretch. But these are the Spurs and they know something about defense.
So when they decided to play defense, Carter and the Nets had no shot. They got shots, but they didn’t hit many and they hardly contested any and they suffered consecutive loss No. 13 to Tim Duncan and the Spurs last night.
With Carter disappearing as quickly as he exploded — he finished with 25 — the Nets fell apart and fell down a peg after their 108-93 defeat to San Antonio. After their 44-point win over Denver, the Nets go into All-Star break with two straight losses by a total of 32 points.
The Nets aren’t as good as they looked against the Nuggets, but they could be as bad as everyone saw against the Magic and Spurs. In both games, the importance of Carter to this team was pronounced, especially against a couple of NBA elites.
The Nets didn’t have him against the Magic due to a strained right elbow and they were blown out. They had trouble scoring, naturally, and didn’t make up for it by playing harder on defense.
Last night, especially after Bruce Bowen was brought in to contain Carter, the Nets stopped scoring. All of them. The Spurs can do that to teams. But the Nets compounded things by not defending the way they needed to to have a chance.
“We just never really had an impact on the defensive end,” coach Lawrence Frank said.
Consider this: the Nets were beaten by a big three, which is expected. But the three, in high-scoring order, were Duncan 27, Matt Bonner 22 and Tony Parker 20. That middle one was Matt Bonner with 22.
The guy can shoot. Everyone knows that. But even his coach, Gregg Popovich, said Bonner “made a ridiculous amount of shots.” If that’s not an indictment on the Nets’ defense, then what is it?
Bonner came in as the No. 2 three-point shooter in the league. As of this writing, after going 4-for-5, he’s No. 1 at 50 percent for the season. How much do you think he loves playing with Duncan and Parker? Bonner is open all the time. He definitely was on this night.
So the Nets go into the break on a sour note, although the first part of the season went better than expected. They know what they need to do to get better and make a playoff push in the second half.
The first thing is to get healthy. Yi Jianlian, Bobby Simmons and Eduardo Najera are expected to be back maybe even for Tuesday’s game in Houston. The second thing is defend better. It’s a must because the schedule remains tough.
Of course, you don’t know whom the Nets will have on their roster by next week. The trade deadline is next Thursday. Carter and just about every Net not named Devin Harris and Brook Lopez have come up in trade chatter.
The Spurs are one of the teams interested in Carter. They’ve done fine without him for years and did a great job against him when it counted.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)