Sprung: Brooklyn’s struggles extend well beyond third quarters

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BROOKLYN — Can one quarter ruin a basketball team’s season? It could if that 12-minute span of poor play happens over, and over and over again — compounding the many problems the team has overall.

kiddnetsThe Detroit Pistons outscored the Nets 34-15 in the third quarter on Sunday afternoon at the Barclays Center in a 109-97 loss that dropped Brooklyn to an almost unfathomable 3-10 on the season. In the Nets’ 10 losses, they’ve been outscored by a total of 96 points in all 10 third quarters. In the team’s three wins, Brooklyn outscored the opposition in the third quarter.

“The ball’s just bouncing the opponent’s way right now and we’ve just got to stay together,” coach Jason Kidd said.

There was optimism at halftime that Brooklyn had finally woken up and would avoid its 5th straight loss. The Nets shot 13-for-17 in the second quarter. Joe Johnson and Alan Anderson led the charge and Brooklyn led 51-44 at halftime despite missing Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry.

Then the team’s typically fateful third quarter arrived in Brooklyn’s 8th loss in its last nine games. In Sunday’s third quarter, Brooklyn was outscored 20-0 in the paint, 10-0 in second-chance points and 9-0 in transition, as Devin Kharpertian pointed out. ”We’ve got to be the worst team in the third quarter,” Nets forward Kevin Garnett said, adding that the team was going through “tough times” but he doesn’t believe in “feeling sorry for ourselves.”

Kevin Garnett speaks to the media.Garnett is going through tough times personally. After hitting his first two shots in the game, he missed his final nine field goal attempts and finished with four points. What’s more troubling for the Nets is how Garnett admitted that he’s struggling on the defensive end, the primary reason why Brooklyn traded a yachtload of draft picks to acquire he and Paul Pierce from the Celtics this past summer (three No. 1s and the right to swap an additional first-round pick).

“It’s been repetitive, and it’s kind of been a tale of our season,” Joe Johnson said. “The third quarter, it doesn’t matter if we’re up or down, we get no lift.”

However, it’s not all about the third quarter for the Nets. They’re lacking in many crucial areas right now, causing them to have the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Let’s start with the team’s total lack of paint presence with Brook Lopez out of the starting lineup.

Brooklyn was no match for Detroit’s imposing front line of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith. The Pistons outscored the Nets 56-22 in the paint. Detroit shot an extremely efficient 28-for-41 in the paint, while Brooklyn was a mind-bogglingly awful 11-for-33.

Take a look at the numbers with Lopez in and with Lopez out:

Nets Paint Production Games Point Dif Average Dif
With Lopez 8 26 3.25
Without Lopez 5 -70 14

In the five games without Lopez, which coincides with the start of the team’s losing streak, Brooklyn has been outscored in the paint by an average of 14 points. With Lopez in the lineup, they’re in the black in the paint. That’s a difference of over 17 points per game in the paint without Lopez, a huge number.

Those ghastly paint stats on Sunday negated a 14-for-26 shooting day for the Nets, with eight makes coming from Johnson, who finished with 34 points. Losing a game while making that many 3-pointers is tough to do.

(RELATED: KOBE EXTENDS; MAKING JOE JOHNSON NBA’S HIGHEST-PAID PLAYER IN 2015-16)

How tough?

According to ESPN Stats & Info, home teams that made at least a dozen treys at a clip over 50 percent were 76-6 over the last five seasons before the Brooklyn loss.

After the game, an emotional Andray Blatche said that after the team played so well in the first half, that there were no excuses for their third quarter relapse. “It’s very frustrating, very embarrassing. It’s not just one guy.”

It’s not just the third quarter either. It’s the entire second half for the Nets over the team’s first Baker’s dozen worth of games. Brooklyn’s fourth quarters are awful as well, as mentioned by USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt.

Nets O Rtg D Rtg Net Dif League Rank
Third Quarter 92.9 112.7 -19.8 30
Fourth Quarter 100.3 107.8 -7.5 25

Brooklyn’s second half defensive rating, points allowed per 100 possessions, is woeful. Its fourth-quarter offense is below average and its third-quarter offensive rating is beyond terrible.

BrookLopezSH1With Lopez and Williams out, the team in place is not getting to the free throw line enough. Detroit took 40 free throws to Brooklyn’s 18 on Sunday, indicative of a really bad trend for the Nets.

Brooklyn is 3-4 when it shoots more free throws than the opposition, but 0-6 when it does not. The team needs to be more aggressive in slashing into the painted are and getting to the free throw line in order to make its stay in the Atlantic Division basement a short one.

The team has also had trouble taking care of the basketball, turning it over 18 times against Detroit, 20 times against Minnesota on Friday and 19 times against Charlotte last Wednesday.

“It’s tough when look at the record, 3-10, 3-11, whatever our record is, and know we’ve dug ourselves quite a big hole, no matter if we’ve got the injuries or not,” Paul Pierce said. “We still feel like we’re talented enough to win these type of games.”

Talented, yes. But probably not well-coached at this point. Brooklyn fired Avery Johnson after the team’s 14-14 start last year, including a 3-10 December that led to his ouster. The Nets are 3-10 now and would have to go 11-4 to reach the record Johnson led the team to after 28 games last season.

So far ownership is supporting Kidd, according to ESPN New York, even when he’s reportedly at odds with head assistant Lawrence Frank.

But the Brooklyn Nets have been a terrible second half team so far this season. Brooklyn can’t get to the line consistently, is in the bottom 10 in scoring offense and defense, is struggling in the paint and it’s 26th in the league in rebound differential. It goes on and on.

There’s just no way around it: The Brooklyn Nets are playing like one of the very worst teams in the NBA.

Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for Sheridan Hoops who loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You should follow him on Twitter.

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