Rally falls short in Brooklyn. Takeaways from the Hornets’ loss to the Nets

John Minchillo/AP

Another night, another nail-biter, another loss.

The Charlotte Hornets put a maddening start in Brooklyn behind them and erased a double-digit deficit, only to have it all fizzle out at the end. A failed coach’s challenge and a pair of missed Mason Plumlee free throws in the waning seconds were crushers, resulting in a 122-116 defeat to the Nets at Barclays Center on Wednesday night.

“We played a poor first half, a really good second half,” coach Steve Clifford said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win. The challenge to me, I just watched it. We don’t have every angle, but I am surprised they came back so quickly with an unsuccessful challenge call. When you watch it, it doesn’t really look from the angles that there was any contact at all.”

Clifford was referring to Terry Rozier getting whistled for a foul during Kyrie Irving’s drive to the basket with the Hornets (7-18) trailing 118-116 with 44.3 seconds remaining. He’s adamant it should have been reversed.

“That call is the biggest play of the game,” he said. “We would have had the ball down two and it cost us a timeout. We’re only going to take the challenge there if we are positive. We were positive. That’s why we did it. So that’s the play of the game basically.”

Rozier was miffed, too.

“Kyrie is a tough offensive player,” Rozier said. “I didn’t think it was a foul, but sometimes the refs are never in the wrong. Obviously, they reviewed it and didn’t think it was a foul. We just move on from it. I guess the tape never lies.”

Here are some key takeaways from the Hornets’ fourth loss in their past five games:

Where’s the ‘D?’

To say the Hornets were a step slow early on against the Nets is being kind.

Nonexistent rotations, uninspired play inside the paint and an overall lethargic effort doomed them. The brutal triple combination kept the Hornets from being competitive for the bulk of the game’s final three quarters.

Brooklyn (14-12) rang up its most points in a half this season, roasting the Hornets for 73 through the first two quarters while shooting 60%. The Hornets got carved up during the first two quarters alone with 20 turnovers.

“We weren’t doing nothing that we talked about this morning,” Rozier said. “They were too easy of looks, were getting down in the middle of the paint of our defense and just created all types of advantages for themselves. So we kind of limited that in the second half and played better and went over what we did this morning.”

End-of-quarter blues

It seems like the Hornets have at least one quarter where head-scratching mistakes allow their opponent to either get a stranglehold on things or trim a deficit. That happened once again against the Nets and it was a Charlotte native who had a hand in the Hornets’ latest end-of-quarter troubles.

Seth Curry netted seven points in one offensive trip down the floor after he drained a 3-pointer while getting fouled. The play was reviewed and upgraded to a Flagrant 1 on Nick Richards, handing the Nets the ball following Curry’s free throw. He swished a corner 3-pointer seconds later to complete his personal mini run and drop the Hornets into an 11-point deficit. He had nine points combined in his previous four games.

The Hornets never fully recovered, and those kinds of troubles become a cumulative thing that’s difficult for a shorthanded bunch to overcome.

Need more consistent help

At least Kelly Oubre and Terry Rozier are in a good groove.

The starting backcourt has each scored 20 or more points in their past six games and it has been a long time since the Hornets have had two players with concurrent 20-plus point streaks. The last occasion that happened came in 2007 with Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace. For Rozier, who poured in 29 points, it’s the longest streak of his career.

Oubre netted 28 points, but the Hornets could use more consistent help from others so they don’t go through stretches where they struggle to score — a scenario that often leads to too much individual play.

PJ banged up

Add PJ Washington to the lengthy injury list.

Washington exited in the fourth quarter after getting hit in the right eye and didn’t return. It came not long after he tied a career high with seven assists.