PHILADELPHIA — The game didn’t get interesting until late in the fourth period, but rookie Terrence Williams and second-year player Chris Douglas-Roberts gave reasons to believe the Nets could be fun to watch this season.
Fun doesn’t always equate to wins, though, as the Nets wasted a 16-point fourth-quarter lead and fell 93-92 in a preseason game here last night. But the young guys forced turnovers, ran the floor, scored in transition and showed their athleticism and versatility, driving and dunking against the Sixers’ defense.
Williams and Douglas-Roberts will be in the Nets’ rotation, and it’s possible one of them could start. The small forward job seems to be the only one up for grabs, figuring Courtney Lee is the starting shooting guard.
Lee has missed both preseason games with injuries to each foot. He sat tonight for precautionary reasons. When Lee is healthy, he will be a big part of what the Nets do on both ends of the floor. So obviously, the Nets will look much different than what we’ve seen.
Williams and Douglas-Roberts led a spirited effort and combined on an impressive defensive stretch in the second period. The Nets had three steals in a row, leading to two fastbreak buckets by Douglas-Roberts, one that Williams fed. They nearly had a third, but Douglas-Roberts’ lob to Lopez was knocked away. Williams and Douglas-Roberts each had one steal in that span.
Douglas-Roberts led the Nets with 20 points, including a go-ahead score inside with 12.7 seconds to go. Williams had 12 points, five boards, four assists and three steals. Their contributions were needed because Devin Harris left the game with a sprained left ankle in the third period and didn’t return. He said he’s fine. Yi Jianlian fouled out with just seven points, further depleting the Nets’ core.
Whether Douglas-Roberts and Williams can do it every night is the question that still needs to be answered. At least Douglas-Roberts backed up his 21-point night against the Knicks with another good offensive performance.
Williams knocked down a few baseline jumpers and had an impressive driving lefty dunk. He also showed his great vision with a bullet pass from near the three-point arc inside to Yi for a slam.
“It was good,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “The experience was tremendous. There are lot things you teach that they’ll learn and get.”
Frank was referring to some defensive mistakes that he probably wouldn’t have been so blasť about if it were the regular season. The Nets’ youngsters fouled shooters and left Jason Kapono alone for a game-tying three in the final minute.
It was important that they experienced this type of game. That was especially true for center Brook Lopez, who was having a quiet night until the fourth period when the game got tight. The Nets saw a mismatch with Lopez’s size against Marreese Speights and Elton Brand and ran the offense through him more. Lopez scored 11 of his 18 points in the final 5:42.
“He was great down the stretch,” Eduardo Najera said. “Now that Devin was out, I think we did a great job going to Brook and he responded.”
Frank changed up the starting lineup and the rotation that he used Sunday against the Knicks as expected. He said he would be auditioning players at multiple spots.
Williams started and Jarvis Hayes came off the bench. Tony Battie and Eduardo Najera were the first two bigs off the bench. It was the first time Najera appeared in a Nets’ game since Jan. 31 against the Sixers.
One interesting lineup featured Harris, Trenton Hassell, Battie, Najera and Jarvis Hayes. Don’t know how much run that group will get in the real season — our guess is not much — but they outscored the Sixers 10-6 with Najera scoring five and Battie three.
Najera was solid and showed what he can do for this team. But the play of the three young guys has to give the Nets hope, especially since two other cornerstones either didn’t play or sat most of the second half with ankle injuries.
PHILADELPHIA — Devin Harris wants everyone to know it was a pass.
He swears the drive late in Saturday night’s game that appeared to be another miss for the Nets’ All-Star was a pass off the backboard. Jason Kidd did those all the time — in transition. But this was the first time we’ve seen Harris do it — and it was a decisive play.
Maybe it was a pass. He knows better. Whatever it was, it wound up being a huge play in the Nets’ favor, especially after Brook Lopez rose up and threw down his 17th carom for points 23 and 24, which wound up being the game-winning basket.
Whatever it was, it was a much-needed, game-changing play for the Nets that they hope can become season changing. They did the unexpected and unthinkable on Saturday, beating the Sixers, 85-83, when it seemed the Nets were headed for consecutive loss No. 4 and defeat nine in 10 games.
The Nets lost Vince Carter to an ankle injury, essentially in the third period. Harris was having an off night. The Nets gave Philadelphia a lane as open as a tunnel to drive through and they went more than six minutes in the third period without a basket.
Yet the Nets won this game.
They were behind by 17 with about 16 minutes to go and trailing by 12 with 8:43 remaining and Carter in the locker room.
Yet, the Nets won this game.
Carter had just seven points when he left. Harris had as many turnovers as assists (six), missed eight-of-14 field goals and five-of-eight foul shots, including a pair that would have tied the game with about two minutes left.
Yet, the Nets won this game.
I keep saying it’s still unthinkable. Just like Harris had to keep telling reporters it was a pass. We needed convincing.
Harris was dead serious when he said it.
“That was a pass,” he said.
Even when some of us joked with him about it, he wasn’t smiling.
“It was a pass,” he said.
I asked him how much the Nets needed this win and he told me he answered that already. I said, sorry, I was talking to the guy who made the shot.
“It was a pass,” Harris said.
“It really was a pass,” he said.
OK, for argument’s sake we’ll say it was a pass. But there’s no arguing how great a win this was for the Nets.
They showed the fight we haven’t seen from them in a while. They battled. They battled through bad nights from their stars, another bad defensive performance and another third-quarter disappearing act.
They played defense in the fourth, holding the Sixers without a basket for the last 10:38. They held them to two points in the last 8:42. They got huge efforts from Lopez, Trenton Hassell, a surprise addition to the rotation, and Jarvis Hayes, playing on a sprained ankle
But their win wasn’t complete until Hassell blocked Andre Miller’s layup in the closing seconds and Harris sent Royal Ivey’s potential game-winning three into the crowd.
There’s no denying Harris saved the Nets with that play. And he did set up the Nets’ game-winning basket.
They were down, 83-82, and he drove easily to the basket. When Marreese Speights came over to help, Harris appeared to be missing a layup — and that’s how it’s recorded on the play-by-play sheet — but maybe, just maybe, he really was throwing it off the backboard for Lopez.
Come to think of it, it was perfectly placed.
“When I seen Speights come over I’m just throwing it up there and nobody blocked Brook out,” Harris said. “It was easier to try and make a fall-away lob pass. It really was a pass.”
“It was a much-needed win,” Harris added.
One more thing: “It was a pass.”
If it was, considering the time and circumstance, it was heady, gutsy and amazing play. But the most amazing thing is the Nets won this game.
Carter said his ankle is OK. He expects to play Tuesday against the Bucks.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).