Fourth-quarter struggles continue to plague Nets

"We tend to be sagging a little bit -- whether it's fatigue or whatever -- we tend to slide down instead of rise up," coach Lionel Hollins said of the Nets' fourth-quarter issues. Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After the Nets collapsed in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon and lost their sixth straight game at home, Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins ripped into his team.

Veteran Joe Johnson said Hollins’ message was that the players’ effort needed to be better.

“We have to bring focus and concentration,” Hollins said Sunday. “We were in that game. We were down two points going into the fourth quarter, and we made nine turnovers and shot 2-for-9 from the free-throw line. The enemy was us, and we just have to be better.”

In their past three fourth quarters, the Nets have shot 37.7 percent from the field, committed 17 turnovers and been outscored by 23 points.

“You have to fight,” Hollins said. “When you get to the last five or six minutes, the level of intensity raises. It’s almost like you go from summer-league games to preseason games to regular-season games to playoff games. And the fourth quarter is like a playoff game.

“Everybody knows it’s winning time, their focus and intensity is heightened and you’ve got to execute better, and I think that’s what happens sometimes. We tend to be sagging a little bit -- whether it’s fatigue or whatever -- we tend to slide down instead of rise up. And we’ve got to continue to rise up and continue to fight.”

Not having a superstar like LeBron James or Stephen Curry to go to down the stretch certainly doesn’t help. In the final five minutes of games within five points, Brooklyn (7-10 in those games) is shooting just 35.8 percent -- the fifth-worst mark in the league.

“I don’t know if it’s second-guessing or we just kind of get away from what’s gotten us the lead or what’s kept us in the ballgame,” Johnson said. “We have a tendency to get away from it, and it’s on us as players. It just kind of spirals down as far as one guy messing up offensively or missing his assignment defensively. It’s kind of like everybody goes [their] separate ways, so we have to just keep it together.”

Play-calling, of course, could also be an issue there. For the season, the Nets rank 24th in points per play after timeouts in all situations, according to Synergy Sports Technology.

“Well, we have go-to people, it’s just a matter of consistency with the people that we have,” Hollins said. “I mean, that’s always the case -- whether we get a shot, get fouled or make a play for somebody else. Those are the things that are needed to be done -- consistently.”

The Nets (8-22) currently sport the NBA’s third-worst record. Their next eight games come against teams with winning records.

Since scoring 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting in a Dec. 8 victory over Houston, Johnson has yet to shoot 50 percent or better from the field in a game. Over that span (nine games), he’s shooting 32.4 percent from the field while averaging just 9.3 points. And in his 303 minutes on the court, Brooklyn has been outscored by 54 points.

Still, despite the fact the box score doesn’t indicate it, Hollins is happy with what Johnson is bringing to the table.

“I just think he’s stable,” Hollins said of Johnson. “When we run pick-and-roll, he’s making the right play. Whether we make shots or not is a different story. He doesn’t always make shots, but he’s making the plays. I wish we could get the ball to him a little cleaner in the post, a little earlier in the post, but we came out today and worked on a lot of stuff. We just concentrated on working and continuing to share the ball.

“I think going back to the fourth-quarter issues, sometimes as teams get tired, they quit moving the ball, they quit moving themselves and start settling for the isolations and hard post-ups off the box, whether it be Joe or Brook [Lopez] instead of just moving and taking whatever the defense gives us and making them play .I think if we can stay with that a little longer, it might help us.”