Nets eliminated from playoff contention despite youngsters leading gritty win over Pacers

The Nets won the battle Wednesday, but lost the war this season.

Brooklyn beat Indiana 115-111 before a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center, however the victory was a Pyrrhic one as they were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

Unofficially that had come a while ago.

Mikal Bridges, who scored 18 points, drives on Pascal Siakam during the Nets’ 115-111 win over the Pacers. AP

A season full of underachievement has left Brooklyn (30-47) in this mess.

Atlanta’s victory over the pitiful Pistons had ended any Nets hope for the play-in.

But any hope they have for their own future beyond this sorry season may be pinned on some of the young players who shined Wednesday night.

Cam Thomas, just 22 years old, led them in scoring as usual with a team-high 27 points.

Nic Claxton — a 24-year-old Brooklyn is determined to keep in summer free agency — had a double-double with 14 points, 13 boards and four blocks.

But most promising might have been teenage rookie Noah Clowney, who spent much of the season in the G-League but showed well Wednesday with career highs of 22 points, 10 rebounds, 7 of 9 shooting and 3 of 4 from deep.

“I look at it like I always say [the Pacers] bleed the same blood, they put the shorts on just like I do. I mean, yeah, they’re a good team, but I’ve got to play with the same confidence I played within the G that I do here,” Clowney said. “I don’t want to start playing shy and then I’m playing bad, tripping over mistakes. I want to just play confident.”

With Houston owning their first-round pick this June, the Nets drafted the spindly Clowney for upside, and he flashed some of that promise.

Cam Thomas, who scored a game-high 27 points, puts up a jumper as Tyrese Haliburton defends during the Nets’ win. Robert Sabo / New York Post

Clowney — at 19 years and 264 days — was the second-youngest Nets player to ever score 20 points, just seven days older than Cliff Robinson had been in 1979.

The Nets have won four of six, and are finally showing some defensive pride after having been ripped up by the Lakers and Pacers in their prior two games.

“Just learning to play with each other out there and get more minutes, more time,” Mikal Bridges said. “Just because this season ends doesn’t mean there’s not more to come. So just getting to learn each other even more, you know, get a good feel, you know, just prepare for next year.

“Play hard and keep learning, keep sticking together, keep playing together and just try to find ugly wins.”

They won ugly and survived Pascal Siakam’s 26 points and Tyrese Haliburton’s 24 for the Pacers.

Nic Claxton, who scored 14 points, goes up for a shot during the Nets’ victory. Robert Sabo / New York Post

The Pacers fell to 43-34, but they’re looking forward to the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Nets are looking forward to next season.

Brooklyn did actually avoid its traditional slow start and jump out early in this one, taking a quick 11-4 lead.

It didn’t last, as the Nets promptly allowed a 25-4 run to go down by two touchdowns.

But Clowney led a comeback. The Nets outscored Indiana 42-31 in the second quarter, powered by the lithe teenager.

Pascal Siakam, who scored a team-high 26 points, drives on Cam Thomas during the Nets’ win over the Pacers. John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Drafted as a defender and rebounder, Clowney had 14 points in the quarter on 5 of 5 shooting, including 3 of 3 from behind the arc.

Considering he’d been just 4 of 16 from deep through his first 17 games, it was an unlikely spark.

Down 63-61 in the third, Brooklyn reeled off nine unanswered.

Dennis Schroder (12 points, game-high 11 assists, six rebounds) found Thomas for a step-back 3 that padded the Nets’ cushion to 70-63.

They pushed it to 83-70 on Dorian Finney-Smith’s tip dunk with 4:27 left in the third. But Brooklyn couldn’t make it easy.

Nic Claxton slams home a dunk during the Nets’ victory. Robert Sabo / New York Post

The Nets immediately gave up a 21-5 run to fall behind by three.

And consecutive baskets by Siakam left Brooklyn in a 106-103 hole.

They trailed 108-105 after another Siakam jumper with 1:41 to play.

But that’s when they turned the game for good with a 7-0 run.

Bridges hit a corner 3 off an offensive rebound to knot it at 108-all with 1:23 left.

And after a defensive stand, Schroder’s driving layup made it 110-108.

Clowney added a pair of free throws to push the lead to four, and after Finney-Smith stole the ball from Obi Toppin with just 26.6 seconds left, Bridges iced it.

But Atlanta’s win made it moot.

“We all care about each other,” Bridges said. “But at the end of the day you get paid to play 82 games, so no matter what the outcome is, you should go out there and play hard every time you’re out there. So that’s how I look at it.”


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