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Nets vs. Grizzlies: Fixing the Fourth a Key for Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Nets have dropped their last four games heading into Friday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies, and there is a common thread to be found.

“At the risk of pointing out the obvious,” said Spencer Dinwiddie, “I feel like they scored more than us.”

Dinwiddie was actually referring specifically to the fourth quarter, and the way those final 12 minutes have been going for the Nets as of late. They’ve had fourth quarter leads in two of the last four games and been within four and two points in the other two. Wednesday night it was a 101-91 loss to the Utah Jazz in which they were outscored 31-13 in the fourth quarter.

“Every game is its own kind of animal and yesterday offensive execution pops up,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “I think in previous games it was our defense. I know Philly, we had a ton of open shots. I felt like missed opportunities. I felt like yesterday was real execution issues. Not being in the right spot, not setting a screen to get a guy open. Simple, simple fundamental things like that.”

They’ve gotten there in different ways. In Dallas the night before Thanksgiving on the second half of a road back-to-back, the Nets hung within two points, 103-101, with four minutes to go before the Mavericks pulled away. Home against the Timberwolves two days later, they were down 17 going into the fourth, and got back within four before finishing a 10-point loss.

There was a 20-point lead against Philadelphia that was still 13 points with 5:30 to go before the Sixers came back and Jimmy Butler delivered a step-back dagger. Against the Jazz on Wednesday, the Nets were up 78-70 going into the fourth and 87-86 with four minutes to go, but got outscored 14-5 to the end.

Dinwiddie sees defense as, not necessarily the problem, but the area in which the Nets have the ability to lock down games. If you’re leading in the fourth quarter, he figures, and you don’t give up any more points, you can’t lose the game.

“I think obviously when you’re a young team and trying to figure things out, that’s where you have to really lock in, because defense is about effort, something that you can really try to lock in and play together as a team as well as possible,” said Dinwiddie. “Obviously it’s not like (Kevin Durant) is on the roster or something like that, where we’re just going to throw it to him and he’s going to get like 50. We do have guys capable of scoring and getting hot at a very high level, as we’ve seen. But as a unit, our best bet is probably to play together, especially on the defensive end.”

Each of the Nets’ last four games fit the NBA’s definition of a “clutch” game; a margin of five points or less within the final five minutes. The Nets have played 13 of those so far in 22 games, fifth in the league. Last year they were second with 50 clutch games in 82. It’s a similar pace — 59 percent of Brooklyn’s games this year vs. 61 percent last year coming down to the wire like that.

But so far this season, the Nets have just a .308 winning percentage in those games, ranked 28th in the league.

“We’re trying to cure it,” said Atkinson. “We had the remedy today. We watched the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter. There was a lot of good stuff. It’s a frustrating thing. But just trying to, I thought the turnovers hurt us, some timely turnovers. I would say Donovan Mitchell hit some very, very tough shots. I looked at it again. I don’t think there’s one where I’d say, ‘oh man we screwed up the coverage.’ It was the coverage we wanted. The kid made some very tough shots. We looked at the film and then we worked on our offensive execution today, where we want guys, what spots, how we’re executing. Got to do a better job, better job when teams ramp it up in pressure situations.”

ABOUT THE GRIZZLIES

The Grizzlies are 12-8 after losing their last three games. Memphis ranks fifth in the NBA in defensive rating (104.9) and paired with the league’s slowest pace (96.25) the Grizzlies allow the fewest points per game in the NBA (102.0). Memphis also commits the third fewest turnovers in the league (13.4), while the Nets are 23rd in turnovers forced (13.9). The Grizzlies are sixth in 3-point shooting percentage (36.6). Mike Conley leads Memphis with 20.3 points and 6.6 assists per game and Marc Gasol averages 18.5 points and a team-leading 9.4 rebounds.

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