BROOKLYN—Brooklyn Nets fans didn’t even get coal on Christmas Day.
At least coal is something tangible. Coal can start a fire. Coal can leave a mark.
Nets fans got nothing from their team in the third quarter of Wednesday’s 95-78 loss to the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center.
No effort, no hustle, no anger, no defense – nothing. Many of the 17,732 booed. On Christmas Day, they booed.
“We deserve it,’’ said backup center Andray Blatche.
The Nets trailed 41-38 at halftime. They were playing a team that had lost seven of their last nine, a team that also has had to deal with losing a key player for the season due to injury.
The Bulls were the team away from home on Christmas Day.
Yet for the second straight game, in strikingly similar fashion, the Nets put in 24 minutes and then left their intensity, grit, desire – you name it – in the locker room.
They got outscored, 36-20, in the third quarter by the Bulls, just as they got outscored, 30-19, in the third quarter of Monday night’s 103-86 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
They got outrebounded 45-39, by the Bulls and they outrebounded by the Pacers, 46-46.
The got called out by their rookie coach, Jason Kidd, after the Pacers game and they got called out again after the Bulls game.
Kidd went to his bench early in the third quarter after watching the Nets give up two uncontested layups to Mike Dunleavy. That pushed the Bulls lead to 61-52. That signaled the beginning of the end.
“I took the five out that gave up the two layups,’’ said Kidd. “At the end of the day, the coach can only hold you responsible for energy and effort. If you’re not giving it, I have to take you out.’’
“If you’re missing shots, that’s just part of the game. But if you’re not giving energy or effort, I’ve got to take you out.’’
Out came Mirza Teletovic, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Alan Anderson. In came, well, it didn’t matter.
“I’m very surprised,’’ Paul Pierce said when he was asked if he was surprised by this team’s lack of effort and resiliency. “We got to be able to weather the storm. We got to be more mentally tough.’’
The Nets (9-19) have lost four straight. Anyone blaming this on the loss of Brook Lopez to a season-ending broken bone in his foot last Friday drank way too much eggnog Tuesday night.
The Bulls (11-16) lost Derrick Rose to a season-ending knee injury. They didn’t fold in the third quarter on the road on Christmas Day.
“We’re not [a championship caliber team],’’ said Blatche. “We’re not. We thought we were this championship team but we’re not showing it right now. Getting booed at home, that tells us we’re not.’’
The basketball Gods could not have found more fitting opponent for the Nets on this day.
It was after the injury-depleted Bulls beat the Nets here last season in Game 7 of their first-round playoff season that management decided to make changes.
The Nets opted not to retain coach P.J. Carlesimo. G.M. Billy King made the blockbuster move of the off-season, acquiring Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from the Celtics.
That deal was supposed to bring the Nets the toughness and experience needed to take the franchise to the next level. It hasn’t happened.
Pierce spoke to the media for the first time since he was ejected from Indiana game for a Flagrant 2 foul in the Pacer’s George Hill.
“I was just trying to get back as fast as I could and not give up a layup,’’ said Pierce. “I was just tired of seeing Indiana make layups all night.’’
Nets fans have seen the Pacers and the Bulls make layup after layup in their building. They’ve seen the Nets win just five home games.
Right now, there’s only one question that matters: Can the Nets learn how to respond at the slightest sign of adversity?
“I don’t know if it can be taught,’’ said Pierce. “I don’t know if you can coach somebody or read a book on it. I don’t know if you can buy it at a store. If I had an answer for where you get that from…I don’t know.’’
This is known: This season that started with such lofty expectations is looking more and more like a lost cause.
“I’m just surprised at this season, how it’s played out all together,’’ said Williams. “It’s like a nightmare.’’
Yep, on Christmas Day the Nets awoke to a nightmare.