The game might have already been over — the final seconds just needed to tick away — but Lionel Hollins still had one last message for his team.
And so, with 19 seconds remaining and the Brooklyn Nets down 27, their coach called timeout and proceeded to rip into his players.
Hollins built the Memphis Grizzlies into a perennial Western Conference contender on grit and grind, on being able to withstand a punch and then deliver a counter.
His young Nets, he felt, had lost the will to fight. They had given up. It was the perfect teaching moment.
“We kind of shut down like we can’t win this game,” Hollins told reporters in San Antonio on Friday night after his team’s 102-75 loss. “You have to keep your confidence. You have to keep playing for the whole 48 minutes.”
The perception — even by many in his organization — might be that this is a “bridge year,” but Hollins isn’t about to buy into that. He is 62 years old, and he believes he can lead this rebuilding team to the playoffs.
“Every time you step out of bed in the morning, you learn something new,” Hollins said. “There’s always something you can take away.”
For the first two quarters Friday night, the Nets (0-2) looked really good. They made the right plays. They took care of the ball. Their bench delivered.
The Spurs (1-1), on the other hand, looked discombobulated. They trailed by as many as 10.
But then halftime came, and San Antonio made the proper adjustments. Its offense began humming like a well-oiled machine again. Smart passes led to open shots, which led to easy baskets. Tony Parker ignited the charge. Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili all chipped in.
Meanwhile, the Nets had seven turnovers in the third quarter and were outscored 60-28 in the second half. They have never won at AT&T Center in the regular season (0-13).
“They did what they are known for and they played at a higher level than we did in the second half,” said Jarrett Jack, who had 12 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his season debut. Jack had missed the season opener due to a sore left hamstring.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (10 points, two blocks) once again showed flashes, but most of the important pieces surrounding Brook Lopez (17 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists) offered little support. Joe Johnson, whom YES Network cameras caught icing his right hand late in the game, is 5-for-22 from the field in his first two games. Long-range marksman Wayne Ellington, who earned the starting shooting guard spot, is 1-for-9.
“They just kept going and we couldn’t put it in the bucket,” Lopez said.
Things don’t get much easier Saturday night, when the Nets head to Memphis to take on Hollins’ former team in the second half of a back-to-back set. In fact, six of the Nets’ next eight games are away from home.
If there’s one thing this coach’s best teams have always done, it’s play hard until the final buzzer.
That’s what Hollins wants. It’s what he demands.
The Nets might not have the most talent in the NBA, but they sure are a likable group.
They’ll endear themselves even more to their coach, as well as their fans, if they continue to give it their all — even when things get tough.