If Brooklyn’s season comes to end Wednesday night in South Beach, they will look back on the final minutes of Monday’s 102-96 loss to the Miami Heat and lament the fact that they let a golden opportunity pass them by.
The game was right there for them to take. Despite all of the heroics of LeBron James, be it the step back jumpers, the deep bombs, or the rim-rattling dunks,with less than two minutes to go the Nets had the ball with a chance to break a 94-94 tie.
For much of the contest, Brooklyn had done a masterful job of keeping the ball moving and working for a clean look, often passing up good shots for even better ones. However, at the end of Game 4, they elected to dump the ball down to Joe Johnson, their designated “closer”, and let him go right at King James. Johnson did his best to initiate contact and draw a sixth foul on James, but eventually had to settle for a contested 14-foot turnaround jumper with 1:16 left. After that miss, on the ensuing possession James drew a small crowd and moved the ball until it found its way to Chris Bosh for an open 3-point dagger that gave Miami a 97-94 lead.
The Nets still had plenty of time to close the gap and extend the game, but on the next possession they once again had Johnson go against LeBron in isolation. This time, James appeared to fall on his back (or flop) after Johnson drove into him, and the end result was a 11-foot runner that came up short.
It was without a doubt an impressive all-around performance by LeBron, scoring 49 points while going 16-24 from the field, yet Brooklyn still could have escaped with the victory had they only executed better down the stretch. The Nets managed to score just two field goals in the final 7:24 of the game, a demoralizing statistic when you consider the amount of play makers they have on their team and that their season was basically on the line. Though he played better, a lot of the blame will still fall on Deron Williams. D-Will attacked the paint and competed with great energy, but still was a mediocre 5-for-14 from the field. The usually reliable Joe Johnson did manage to finish with 18 points, but his two late misses soured his outing and didn’t help his 5-for-15 shooting line.
Down 3-1 in the series, the Nets must forget this loss quickly and focus on winning one game. They can take solace in the fact that they are veteran squad not opposed to playing on the road, that they won twice in Miami during the regular season and already escaped a do-or-die Game 7 in Toronto during these playoffs. It also took a superhuman effort out of LeBron for the Heat to emerge victorious last night, playing 43 minutes and exerting a great deal of effort. I know he wants to close out the Nets as soon as possible, but let’s see if Brooklyn can once again limit the effectiveness of Miami’s role players and make James do it on his own. This will be a challenge, as his running mates will likely get a shot of life playing in front of the home crowd.
Despite the throttling from his primary rival, Paul Pierce managed to retain his swagger afterwards, proclaiming “the series is far from over”. To make good on this promise, Brooklyn could use a Deron Williams circa 2009 performance. I know it seems like a lifetime ago, but for a short period of time D-Will was right up there with Chris Paul in regards to being talked about as the best point guard in the league. Injuries have zapped him of some of his powers, but on the right night for brief stretches he can still look like the best player on the floor.
With their collective age and difficulty closing games in the fourth quarter, the Nets desperately needs this version of Williams to take control in the last twelve minutes on Wednesday night if they have any hope of bringing this series back to Brooklyn.