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D’Angelo Russell didn’t make only late mistake, just biggest

There were mistakes made in the final 23.7 seconds Friday as the Brooklyn Nets snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. D’Angelo Russell’s was the biggest.

The Brooklyn Nets should have been celebrating a signature early-season road win Friday night. After trailing at the end of the first quarter, the Nets led most of the rest of the way.

Like, until the final two seconds most of the way. But a series of mistakes in the final 23.7 seconds doomed the Nets to another one of those losses where they were done in by their inability to close out a close game.

The New Orleans Pelicans were beaten Friday night. The win was Brooklyn’s for the taking.

But the Nets — as has been their frustrating fashion in recent times — instead took the precious victory, placed it in a box, taped it up, wrapped it, stuck a bow on the top and handed it to the Pelicans.

At a certain point, one begins to wonder if this is something that has taken up residence inside the six or so inches between the ears of each player on the roster, a feeling of inevitable dread as the clock winds down and the Nets have a lead on the scoreboard.

To reset the scene, the Nets led 115-112 after Nikola Mirotic made a pair of free throws for New Orleans with 48.6 seconds remaining.

On its ensuing possession, Brooklyn appeared to be caught in that dreaded gap between “work the clock” and “make sure you get a good shot.” They drained much of the time off the shot clock, but had to settle for a rushed, contested 3-point attempt from Caris LeVert that was off-target.

Anthony Davis corralled the rebound for the Pelicans and New Orleans took a timeout to advance the ball to the front court.

There were 23.7 seconds showing on the clock.

That led us to mistake No. 1 in the closing sequence. The Nets obviously wanted to guard against the Pelicans getting a good look — or any look — from 3-point range as they protected a three-point lead.

But Jared Dudley immediately strolled out to the perimeter and wrapped up Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday for a common foul. Brooklyn was already over the limit and Holiday would shoot free throws.

No, the Pelicans didn’t get a 3-point attempt. But Brooklyn also only made New Orleans burn 1.8 seconds off the clock at a time when the Nets’ biggest enemy wasn’t so much the Pelicans as it was Father Time.

Holiday made both free throws, cutting the Brooklyn lead to 115-114 with 21.9 seconds to go.

Dudley owned the mistake when questioned by a fan on social media.

The shot clock was dark, but almost 22 seconds is a very long time to play keep-away. New Orleans opted not to foul quickly, which was helpful, and the Nets initially did a very nice job of getting the Pelicans defense into scramble mode, moving the ball around the perimeter quickly.

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Dudley got the ball in the right corner, took a dribble and spotted Jarrett Allen cross-court above the break and delivered the pass. Allen saw D’Angelo Russell out high in the middle of the floor and smartly got the ball to the point guard.

And Russell made an inexplicable, indefensible decision. Rather than secure the ball, ensure he knew where he was passing and then releasing the ball, Russell flipped a no-look touch pass in the direction of Caris LeVert on the right wing.

Russell’s pass was leading LeVert toward the middle of the floor. LeVert, however, had just made a cut to go away from the bucket toward the sideline. The ball sailed out of bounds with 7.5 seconds to go.

New Orleans now had the ball down one with 7.5 seconds remaining. They didn’t have a timeout to use, so they would have to inbound at the spot Russell’s errant pass left the floor, but in that situation being able to burn a bit of clock getting into the front court was not the worst scenario.

Holiday dribbled up court and pulled up from about 18 feet, drilling the go-ahead jumper. In a game they had led since 18 seconds into the second quarter, the Brooklyn Nets were now trailing 116-115 with two seconds remaining.

Coach Kenny Atkinson used his final timeout to advance the ball and the team huddled to set up the play.

As the timeout was ending, Pelicans forward Solomon Hill strolled toward the Nets’ bench, ostensibly to get himself into position to defend the inbounds play.

But he kept advancing toward the huddle and finally. Nets backup center Ed Davis gave Hill a little shove with a forearm to move him away. Hill responded with a flop and the officials were suddenly at the scorer’s table reviewing the incident.

Davis was assessed a technical foul and Holiday made the free throw, taking a potential game-winning 2-pointer off the table for Brooklyn and leaving the Nets no time to rethink the play call.

Joe Harris tried to lob the ball over Anthony Davis. He failed to do so and Davis’ fourth steal of the game sealed the win for the Pelicans.

After the game, Davis was candid about his feeling about Hill, telling YES Network that Hill was a “certified clown.”

Many mistakes, but Russell’s was far and away the biggest. On a night when we should have been lauding Russell’s hot first-half shooting that helped Brooklyn take a big lead, we were instead left to try and understand just what the heck he was thinking when he made a simple play difficult.

Russell is now in his fourth NBA season, but he’s still just 22 years old. He hasn’t enjoyed much team success since coming into the league — last season’s 28-win Brooklyn team was the best he’s been with after playing with Los Angeles Lakers squads that won 17 and 26, respectively.

It’s been said ad nauseum this is an important season for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Russell did not get an extension of his rookie deal from the Nets, who opted to let his situation play out next summer as a restricted free agent.

His talent is unquestionable. His first half was electric, as he pumped in 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including hitting all four of his 3-point attempts. But there were blemishes on that performance, too, and they had to do with questionable decisions with the ball.

Twice in the first half, he tried to hit Allen with lobs into the lane. The first was too high — a concern when trying to feather a pass over the 7-foot-6 wingspan of Anthony Davis — and was stolen by Wesley Johnson. The second was not high enough and Davis snatched it out of the air.

But the thing is this — neither of those plays was there and Russell, as a point guard, needs to be able to recognize that and go somewhere else with the ball.

Last season, Spencer Dinwiddie had the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA, a sterling 4.09-to-1 mark. Russell’s ratio last season in 48 games was 1.69-to-1, a number far too low for an NBA point guard.

This season through five games, Russell has “improved” that ratio to 2-to-1 with 30 assists and 15 turnovers.

A fourth-year point guard should be moving past the point of silly, careless mistakes with the basketball. Russell doesn’t appear to be moving past that point and on Friday night, it helped cost the Brooklyn Nets a victory.

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