WASHINGTON — The last time the Nets came to the nation’s capital they lost a huge lead and star Kyrie Irving. Wednesday it was a stirring comeback victory that slipped through their fingers.
After rallying from an 18-point deficit to lead late, the Nets suffered a 110-106 heartbreaker at Capital One Arena.
The Nets — who’d rallied from 45-27 down — took a 106-105 lead on Spencer Dinwiddie’s driving layup with 24 seconds to play. But Jerome Robinson’s left-wing 3-pointer put Washington up with nine seconds left in regulation.
And when Dinwiddie settled for a step-back 3 that missed — Robinson grabbed the defensive rebound, icing it at the line on the other end — there would be no overtime. And no comeback.
Caris LeVert had a game-high 34 points, seven assists and six rebounds. And he actually played solid defense to hold red-hot Bradley Beal at least somewhat in check with 30, after he’d poured in a total of 108 in his previous two games. But in the end it didn’t matter.
The Nets fell to 26-31.
“Obviously, Beal is the head of the snake,” Kenny Atkinson said before the game. “[Scott Brooks] has done a marvelous job with the Wizards. They’re playing well. Everybody talks about their defense not being good, but the last 10 games, they’ve been really good. They’ve been top-10 defensively.
“It’s going to be a heck of a challenge on both ends. A lot of respect. We’re going to have to play really well to get this one.”
They didn’t play well enough to get it.
The last time the Nets had come to Washington, they not only lost a 12-point cushion — and a three-point edge with 5:29 left — but lost Irving. He crumpled to the floor with a right knee sprain and hasn’t played since, slated for season-ending shoulder surgery.
They didn’t lose any players this time, just a gut-wrenching game that wasted a stellar performance from LeVert. It continued a scalding-hot stretch from LeVert that even Atkinson didn’t see coming.
“I hadn’t seen signs,” Atkinson admitted. “I knew it was there. It wasn’t like a progression where he went from struggling to all of a sudden a spark went off. I’m not sure how that evolved. That’s just the truth. Getting him into the starting lineup helped his confidence, but he was struggling for a while.”
Those struggles ended the second Atkinson took the training wheels off LeVert and put him back in the starting lineup.
LeVert had been coming off the bench since returning from his lengthy layoff for thumb surgery. But since being reinserted into the lineup eight games earlier on Feb. 3 against Phoenix, LeVert had been on a tear. He’d averaged 22.6 points, 5.1 assists, 4.1 boards and 2.1 steals, hitting 43.8 percent from deep and 88.9 percent from the foul line.
But Wednesday’s performance was as good as any of them.
However, it was the Nets’ own sloppiness that cost them. They hit just 6 of 19 from behind the arc, a sorry 9 of 17 from the foul line and committed 11 turnovers to simply hand Washington points and a 60-47 halftime lead.
Trailing 69-59 after an Ian Mahinmi dunk, the Nets reeled off nine unanswered points to climb within one. DeAndre Jordan had five of them, including a dunk to make it 69-68.
The Nets tied it at 79-all on a LeVert 3-pointer, and again at 81-all on Jarrett Allen’s free throws. And Garrett Temple’s huge 3-pointer put them over the hump at 84-81 with a half-minute left in the third.
They led 94-93 after two Dinwiddie free throws, but Beal’s free throws with 4:41 left and then driving layup put Washington ahead by three.
The Nets retook a 98-97 lead on LeVert’s free throws with 2:36 to play. And Dinwiddie’s drive made it 100-97.
The Wizards got 3-pointers from first Davis Bertans and then Beal to tie it at 100-all and 103-all. But Dinwiddie hit just one of two at the foul line to put the Nets ahead by just a point with 37.2 seconds in regulation. And when Jordan fouled Thomas Bryant, the Wizards big man calmly sank both with 29 seconds left. That’s when the dramatics ensued.