The process of subtracting and adding was over now in a tumultuous week that marked the end of an unforgettable era of Nets basketball, and not in a good way. A new era tipped off in earnest Saturday night at Barclays Center.
Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, who came to Brooklyn on Thursday in a large package from Phoenix for Kevin Durant, made their Nets debuts against Philadelphia. They joined Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, who both played in Thursday night’s home win over Chicago after being traded from Dallas in the Kyrie Irving deal.
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn has been left to weave the new guys into the fabric of this team with the holdovers amid a continued run at the playoffs. He decided to start all four newcomers alongside Nic Claxton against the 76ers.
The Nets led most of the way, but Joel Embiid capped a 37-point, 13-rebound night by hitting the tying and go-ahead free throws with 5.2 seconds left in a 101-98 win for Philadelphia.
James Harden made two more free throws with nine-tenths of a second left before Dinwiddie countered with a three at the buzzer. The shot initially was ruled good, but after review, it was determined that he did not get it off in time.
Bridges scored 23 points and Joe Harris (18 points) made six three-pointers off the bench. Cam Thomas added 14 points off the bench and Johnson had 12 points and seven rebounds.
The Nets fell to 33-23, still good enough for fifth in the Eastern Conference.
“I think it’s great that we can form a group together,” Vaughn said before the game. “It’s the beginning chapter of a new era. This group gets to tell their own story. That’s what we’re going to allow them to do, come together, figure things out, find a way to get this thing done.
“But the expectations remain the same. What that looks like at the end, I don’t know what the last chapter of the book looks like.”
This first page of the first chapter didn’t end well.
And there was a reminder in the house of the Big 3 and the epic failure of that era of Nets basketball. Harden, booed much of the night, scored 29 points for Philadelphia (36-19).
After the 76ers cut an 11-point third-quarter lead to three early in the fourth, the Nets responded. Harris hit two three-pointers in an 8-2 run to put the Nets ahead 90-81.
But Philadelphia kept coming. Harden drove for a layup and followed with two free throws to bring the 76ers within 96-93. Embiid hit a 14-footer to cut the deficit to one. Dinwiddie responded by making a move and bursting down the lane for a dunk to make it 98-95 with 1:45 left.
Embiid countered with a short jumper before Dinwiddie missed and Harden missed consecutive three-point attempts.
With 12.2 seconds remaining, Dinwiddie lost the ball out of bounds on the way to the basket.
After a 76ers timeout, Harden missed a drive, but Embiid grabbed the offensive rebound. Dinwiddie fouled him on the ensuing shot attempt and Embiid made both free throws.
On the ensuing possession, Bridges couldn’t convert a layup and the Nets were forced to foul Harden, who made both.
The Nets called their last timeout to set up a play. Dinwiddie was left open on the inbound pass and drilled a three-pointer from 32 feet, straightaway. But it was still on his fingertips as the buzzer sounded.
The Nets’ eight-point halftime lead expanded to 11 twice in the third, first on a three-pointer by Bridges and again on a layup by Johnson that made it 76-65.
Philadelphia quickly cut it to five. The Nets went into the fourth quarter up 82-76.