Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

The Brooklyn Nets were the best version of themselves against the New Orleans Pelicans, but they imploded down the stretch.

It was hard to get a reading on the Brooklyn Nets through their first four games of the season. There first two games came down to the final possessions. One ended in a loss to the Pistons, while the other ended with some Caris LeVert heroics to topple the New York Knicks. The Indiana Pacers ripped up the Nets, winning 132-112, but the Nets followed that up with a thrashing of the inept Cavaliers.

The Nets outplayed the Pelicans for the vast majority of the game, but the team gave away this win tonight. The Pelicans finished the game on a 9-0 run and won 117-115. Caris LeVert came up with some big shots late and it looked like the Nets were ready to hand New Orleans its first loss.

But the Nets missed a few shots and allowed the Pelicans to make it a one-score game with 24 seconds to play. Up three, Jared Dudley inexplicably fouled Jrue Holiday who knocked down both shots. The Nets still held a 115-114 lead.

New Orleans pressured the ball on the inbounds, but they weren’t fouling, they were doubling the ball and forced the Nets to keep it moving. D’Angelo Russel played his best game of the season, but when the game mattered most, he threw a lazy pass out of bounds with the shot clock off and a one-point lead. Unacceptable.

Jrue Holiday came down and calmly drained a 15-footer to give the Pelicans a lead. That’s when things got weird. Soloman Hill charged into the Nets huddle during a timeout and Ed Davis stuck a forearm in his chest. Hill collapsed to the ground and Davis was assessed with a technical foul. Ultimately, Anthony Davis batted away the final inbounds and the Nets lost anyway, but the technical foul was an absolutely ridiculous call.

This was a terrible way to lose and it’s a wild shift in momentum for Kenny Atkinson’s squad. Rather than handily securing a win against a tough Western Conference opponent, they drop below .500 in heartbreaking fashion.

It’s an absolute gut punch for a young team. The Golden State Warriors are coming into the Barclays Center on Sunday and the Nets could have used a win before a brutal stretch of games. The Nets play the Warriors on Sunday and the Knicks on Monday before welcoming the Pistons, Rockets, and Sixers into Brooklyn. That’s a tough stretch of games for the Nets to have, especially following such a tough loss.

But the toughest part about this game is the Nets played like the best version of themselves for 46 minutes. They just couldn’t finish off the job, despite having every opportunity to do so.

D’Angelo Russell had the dubious that cost the team the game, but he was dealing for the 47 minutes and 50 seconds before that pass. Russell had 24 points on 9-for-16 shooting and 6-for-9 from deep. He also chipped in six rebounds and four assists for good measure. He finally played like the star that the Nets desperately need him to become.

In addition to Russell’s good showing, Caris LeVert showed mettle during crunch time. He hit a couple big shots to stretch the Nets lead before their eventual collapse. He’s developing into their go-to guy late. Even though he didn’t shoot well on Friday (8-for-23 from the floor), he was still willing to take the big shots late.

Jarrett Allen only scored seven points, but he had a tremendous impact on the game. He hauled in eight rebounds and had two blocks. But the big man uncharacteristically dished out four assists. The Nets have something special in Allen. He’s a rim-running big that can impact the game on both ends of the floor.

Additionally, Shabazz Napier provided a huge spark off the bench, dropping 16 points in just 15 minutes of action.

In short, the Nets gave fans every reason to believe that this team is ready to compete this season. This win would have been enormous towards building a belief that the Nets can contend with anyone in the league.

Now they are staring down the best team in a decade, before facing off against a crosstown rival, and three potential playoff teams. The Nets could put themselves in an early hole, but now it’s up to Kenny Atkinson to figure out a way to rebound from this loss.

The Nets are doing everything they can to convince us that they have playoff potential. Well, they’re doing everything except win.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.