Nets’ hearts broken by Trae Young at buzzer in loss to Hawks

ATLANTA — After getting blown out Friday in Chicago, the Nets had their hearts broken two days later by the Hawks. 

Brooklyn fought back from a huge deficit to tie, only to watch Trae Young beat them with a floater at the buzzer. The end result was a 129-127 gut-wrenching defeat at StateFarm Arena. 

The Nets (34-26) had been drilled by 44 points against the Bulls, and were down by 18 in the second quarter Sunday before rallying. Dorian Finney-Smith’s 3-pointer pulled Brooklyn within 127-124 with 48.3 seconds left, and when they forced a Young miss — and Spencer Dinwiddie snatched the rebound — they had a chance to tie. 

Cam Johnson (team-high 27 points) made it count. When Johnson’s defender left him, Finney-Smith found him open in the left corner for a game-tying 3-pointer with 7.8 seconds left in regulation. But they couldn’t hold on to reach overtime. 

The Nets left Mikal Bridges (24 points) — the reigning Defensive Player of the Year runner-up — on Young, and he played solid enough defense. Dinwiddie came over from behind to try to get a piece of the shot, but the 12-foot floater was good, just beating the buzzer. 

Trae Young shoots during the Hawks' win over the Nets on Feb. 26.
Trae Young shoots during the Hawks’ win over the Nets on Feb. 26.
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Young finished with 34. 

Brooklyn fell to 1-4 since trading Kevin Durant to Phoenix for Bridges, Johnson and a trove of draft picks. It will be years until the picks bear fruit — through trades or selections — and they don’t have years to fix this defense. 

“I’ll always revert back to the mental side of this game and how important that is,” coach Jacque Vaughn said before the game. “You saw that across the league. There was some weird and wild scores across the league going into the All-Star break. We were part of that coming out of the break. 

“So for our team to be mentally ready for the challenge versus a team that just played a Cleveland team and they were up 30 in the game. And so how is our awareness to every responsibility every single play? So I’m really looking forward to diving into the mental piece of this team and growing that way.” 

Trae Young
Trae Young finished with a game-high 34 points.
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Joe Prunty — a former Jason Kidd assistant — is standing in as Hawks interim after the team fired Nate McMillan on Tuesday. The latter led Atlanta to the Eastern Conference finals as interim himself, but had “philosophical differences” with Young. 

Chances are fired Nets coaches Kenny Atkinson and Steve Nash can empathize. 

After Vaughn served as interim when the Atkinson got fired in 2020 and replaced Nash this season, Brooklyn benefitted from the so-called “new coach bump.” Now it appears to be Atlanta’s turn. 

“I think historically it has been chronicled what happens after a coach is released, how the team plays,” Vaughn said. “I even think Vegas takes a look at it, and I think historically it’s been something different that the team responds to. 

“So you always take that into consideration. They seem to play with an extreme amount of energy and effort the other night. So that’s a team we’ll have to play against. But I think historically, those teams have responded over the years.” 

Cam Johnson scores during the Nets' loss to the Hawks on Feb. 26.
Cam Johnson scores during the Nets’ loss to the Hawks on Feb. 26.
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Atlanta big man John Collins — who returned from concussion protocol and a bad back — put the Nets in a pair of 18-point holes, the second at 57-39 with 5:36 left in the half. 

Brooklyn was allowing 57 percent shooting — and 9 of 15 from 3-point range — a sure recipe for defeat. Then the Nets finally sprinkled in some defense, closing the half on an 18-7 spurt — including 11 points from Cam Thomas off the bench. 

After going behind by 18, Brooklyn tightened the vise and held the Hawks to just 4 of 19 shooting in an extended 35-14 run that spanned intermission. 

A Finney-Smith putback of his own miss put the Nets ahead 72-71 with 8:18 left in the third, their first lead since early in the contest. And after he rebounded a Collins miss, a Nic Claxton driving layup capped the run and pushed it to 74-71 just 36 seconds later. 

Jacque Vaughn
Jacque Vaughn reacts during the Nets’ loss to the Hawks on Feb. 26.
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Thomas’ free throw handed Brooklyn a 92-89 edge with 1:10 left in the third, but they couldn’t hold it. The Nets yielded an 8-2 run to close the period, and trailed by three going into the fourth. 

It was 105-103 with 7:55, but after Saddiq Bey drilled a 3-pointer off a Bogdan Bogdanovic feed, Royce O’Neale missed a short floater. Brooklyn’s defense parted and gave Collins an alley-oop from Young for a seven-point lead with 6:36 to play. 

Bridges got them within a point at 118-117 with 3:06 remaining, but Dejounte Murray answered with a 3-pointer 20 seconds later. Once Dinwiddie turned the ball over — a bad pass out of bounds with 2:32 in regulation — the Nets were in another hole. 

They fought on, but couldn’t hold on.

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