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The Nets’ defense has collapsed since they traded Jarrett Allen. And for the second straight game, their former center came back to haunt them — and own their paint.
The Nets imploded in the third quarter, falling 125-113 Friday in Cleveland. And it was Allen who was at the heart of the decisive run that blew the game wide open.
The undersized Nets got destroyed 62-32 on the glass and outscored 70-44 in the paint. They saw Allen score 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, mostly dunks — including a ferocious one over Joe Harris. Kyrie Irving’s game-high 38 went to waste, sabotaged by the Nets’ inability to get a stop or grab a board.
It’s been a reoccurring issue since they traded Allen to get James Harden and form their Big 3 with Irving and Kevin Durant.
“Defense has to be a priority. It’s going to be what makes or breaks our season … and we have to improve at it,” Steve Nash said.
“Without practice time, with all the newness and having three offensive weapons who’re used to carrying a load offensively, that’s going to take time. I don’t know that we can fix that in a couple weeks. It’s something that we have to chip away at all season — it’s going to be a work in progress the entire season and it has to be our No. 1 priority.”
Harden (19 points, 11 assists) gave the Nets a 70-69 edge on a stepback 3-pointer with 7:47 left in the third. It was the last lead they would enjoy.
Looking to get some payback from Wednesday’s humbling double-overtime loss in Cleveland — and playing without a resting Durant — the Nets coughed up a game-sealing 20-5 run that epitomized how this night went.
Irving turned the ball over, failed to get back on defense and then got a technical on the play. Meanwhile, Allen capped the run by finishing a two-on-one fast break, throwing down an alley-oop from Darius Garland. It left the Nets down 89-75, with Allen’s megawatt smile telling the tale of this game, and his payback against the team that traded him.
The Nets’ field goal defense has plummeted from sixth-best to 22nd in the first four games since that deal. A Defensive Rating that was 11th before losing Allen had been 26th post-trade coming into Friday.
Hence the signing of Norvel Pelle, first reported by ESPN and confirmed by the Post. The arrival of the 6-foot-10, 231 pounder — pending clearance of Health and Safety protocols — gives the Nets a backup to DeAndre Jordan, and more rim protection.
Pelle averaged just 2.4 points and three boards in 24 games last season with the Sixers; but his 1.3 blocks in just 9.7 minutes and 7-foot-3 ½ wingspan will be useful.
At 27, Pelle’s taken a long, winding road to Brooklyn. Born in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda, he’s lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands before settling in California.
Rivals’ top-ranked center nationally in his class, Pelle went pro and ended up playing in Taiwan, Beirut and Italy before finally reaching the NBA last season.
Now he will get a chance to vie for a rotation spot. Allen is gone, Nic Claxton is hurt and Durant is the only other Net 6-foot-10.
Jeff Green and Reggie Perry are both 6-8, the former a stretch-four and the latter a raw second-round pick.
With the Pelle deal not official, Nash didn’t talk about his shot-blocker or getting help on the trade market with their new Disabled Player Exception.
“We need to improve, and we need to look inward to improve,” said Nash. “If roster composition changes for the better defensively, that’s great; but I don’t think we can rely on that, because that may not be possible. It’s not like they’re just falling off trees for us to pick up guys that are going to change our defense. You’re always looking; having said that, we have to look inward and take responsibility and make it a priority and try to grow defensively.”
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