In a stretch of 12 minutes, the Brooklyn Nets rendered the other 36 irrelevant.
After a solid first half, one of the team's best in many games, the Nets took all of twelve minutes to turn a seven-point lead into a 12-point deficit. They made just five of nineteen shots, committed seven turnovers and seven shooting fouls, and allowed 34 points on 12-18 shooting to the Detroit Pistons, who got scoring contributions from all nine players who took the floor in that timeframe.
The Nets left the third quarter down 78-66, hearing boos from their home crowd at Barclays Center, and began the fourth with an all-bench lineup, wearing white flags disguised as jerseys.
The problems are clear -- the Nets lack energy, effort, and execution in the third quarter. But the answers are more elusive. An exasperated Andray Blatche, who faced his locker while speaking with reporters, couldn't put his finger on it.
"I'm assuming the third quarter, it's just..." Blatche paused, trying to find the right words, letting out a frustrated laugh. "We've just got to focus in. We've got to want it more."
So how do they fix it?
"We've got to be the worst team in the league when it comes to third quarters, just unacceptable," Kevin Garnett said after the game. He's right: as of the game's end, the Nets ranked last in the NBA in third-quarter differential, outscored by 19.8 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter this season. The Pistons outscored the Nets 34-15 in the third Sunday afternoon en route to the 109-97 victory.
Most of Detroit's damage came inside. With the Nets down star center Brook Lopez, the Nets were outscored 56-22 in the paint, including a ridiculous 20-0 in the third quarter. "This is our Achilles heel," Garnett said flatly of the team's paint problems.
"Teams are coming out with more energy," Garnett continued. "They're coming out scoring, aggressive. We're not ready for that for some reason, and I don't know why. We've got to figure it out. We've got to figure it out soon. ... I think everybody in here is embarrassed."
The Nets sorely miss Lopez on the interior on both ends of the floor. With Lopez in the game, the Nets outscore opponents in the paint by an average of 3.1 points per game; without Lopez, opponents outscore them by 7.4 points per game. That's a swing of over ten points in the painted area alone.
But the problems don't end there.
“Well, I think tonight it was just clear cut: transition," Coach Jason Kidd said after the game. Again, he's not wrong: The Nets score a league-worst average of 1.2 points in transition per game in the third quarter, and the Pistons outscored the Nets 9-0 in the tertiary frame. "We couldn’t get back, so we got to address that. We got to look at it."
Watch the video above and you'll see exactly what Kidd means. The Nets didn't get back on defense after made shots or rush back on turnovers, and the Pistons were able to get easy shots at the rim and draw fouls early in the shot clock. It's a recurring problem.
"As players we have to be accountable," Garnett continued, "including myself, and come out and do whatever it is that we got to do and apply it."
In the past, Garnett has laid blame on the team's turnover differential, and he's got a point there too. On the season, The Nets turn the ball over on 18.3% of their possessions in the third quarter, their worst quarter handling the ball and well worse than their season average of 15.9%. They committed seven turnovers against the Pistons in the third quarter.
Conversely, the Nets force turnovers on just 10.8% of their opponent's possessions in the third quarter, ranking them the worst in the league. They forced just three turnovers against the Pistons in the third quarter.
They score a league-worst average of 2.3 points off turnovers, and allow teams to score 4.8 points off turnover per game in the third quarter. That was no different on Sunday, as the Pistons outscored the Nets 10-0 in points off turnovers in the third.
10-0 on points off turnovers, 9-0 on fast-break points, 20-0 on points in the paint... Seeing a pattern here?
"We’re getting good looks; we just can’t finish the play," Kidd added. Right again. The Nets shot an effective field goal percentage (which accounts for the added value of three-pointers) of 31.6% from the field against the Pistons in the third quarter, hitting just three two-pointers and two three-pointers on 19 shots in the entire quarter.
The Nets have an effective field goal percentage of 44.7% in the third quarter on the season, a figure that would rank second-to-last in the NBA, ahead of only the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Nets now sit at 3-10 after opening the season with championship aspirations. They're on a five-game losing streak and have won just once since November 5th. With two starters and two key bench players out indefinitely with day-to-day injuries, the Nets have looked lost on both ends of the floor, particularly in the third quarter.
If it's as simple as the Nets returning to 100% strength, then that's the only answer they need. But right now, it's impossible to get a gauge on their full potential.