For most of this bumpy season, the Nets have had the 76ers as a landing mat — a group struggling so mightily, and so consistently, that no matter how many missteps the Nets made, there always would be one team below them, safely cushioning the Eastern Conference basement.
Yet for 12 minutes last night, the 76ers didn’t look like a doormat. Coming off a 51-point loss to the Spurs, the Sixers punched back hard in the third quarter against the Nets. The 76ers overcame a 16-point second-quarter deficit and took a third-quarter lead before the Nets broke away to defeat them, 100-91, at Barclays Center.
“In our situation, we’ll take every win,” said Andrea Bargnani, who had 23 points. “We could have done a better job being focused during the game. I thought in the first half, we didn’t do a great job of being focused, but in the end, we got the ‘W,’ so that’s all that matters . . . They’ve got talent.”
The 76ers outscored the Nets 30-18 in the third quarter, outrebounded them 14-7 and went into the fourth quarter leading 74-70. But Shane Larkin’s three-point play with 10:10 to go regained the lead for the Nets, who cobbled together a 12-2 run for a 90-80 advantage with 7:18 to go.
It was the Nets’ sixth win in seven home games and their fourth win in the last six. They’re 7-15; the 76ers fell to 1-22.
Bargnani, who missed four games with a tight left hamstring, played 23:15 off the bench. Thaddeus Young added 18 points and 11 rebounds. Rookie Jahlil Okafor led the 76ers — who shot 4-for-31 from three- point range — with 22 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
When it came to a face-to-face matchup, the teams were more evenly matched than they appeared on paper.
Brook Lopez picked up two fouls in less than two minutes to open the third quarter, giving him four, and Okafor hit both his foul shots to draw the 76ers to within six with 10:36 left. They tied it five times in the third before Hollis Thompson’s foul shots with 2:32 left gave them their first lead since the first quarter.
Jerami Grant’s putback put them up 70-68 with 1:26 to go in the third, and Grant scored the next four for a 74-68 edge. Bojan Bogdanovic’s jumper cut the deficit to four going into the fourth.
“It was a win we had to get,” said Lopez, who committed five fouls. “Philly stuck with it. They’re scrappy. They really, really needed this one, so they were persistent.”
By all logic, the 76ers never should have gotten to that point. They shot 20.8 percent in the first quarter and were 0-for-10 from behind the arc. The 13 points the Nets allowed in that quarter was their defense’s best period since last February.
The Nets led 52-44 at the break. The 76ers shot 33.3 percent to the Nets’ 60.0, and managed only six points off the Nets’ 12 first-half turnovers.
The Nets’ bench totaled 53 points, with Bargnani and Larkin (14 points) leading the way.
“I thought that the substitution guys got the lead back and kept it for us,” Lionel Hollins said. “It’s another win and we just keep trying to work our way up.”