James' 49, Bosh's Big 3 put Nets on brink of elimination
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It was theirs for the taking. And then it wasn’t.
Paul Pierce’s acrobatic three-point play with 4:25 remaining in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals brought the 17,732 in attendance at the Barclays Center, not to mention the rest of our fair borough, to their feet Monday night.
The future Hall of Famer’s deft one-handed floater and ensuing free throw gave the Nets a 90-89 lead over LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
It also bolstered the belief that Brooklyn would show up in South Beach Wednesday night for Game 5 with the series firmly knotted at two games apiece.
Suddenly, everything the Nets had dreamed of when they spent the offseason acquiring Pierce and Kevin Garnett as part of an NBA-record $180 million-plus roster seemed possible.
Brooklyn was simply “protecting home” as head coach Jason Kidd insisted time and again that they must do to go far in the postseason.
The Nets had finally arrived as a serious contender for the NBA title billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov has been chasing since buying his way into our borough’s first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers fled to Los Angeles in 1957.
But instead, for the second time in these playoffs, on their home floor no less, the Nets’ offense disappeared down the stretch, resulting in a soul-crushing 102-96 loss that put them on the brink of playoff elimination.
"This is very difficult to swallow," Garnett painfully admitted. "Hard to take, but it's what it is. “Coulda, shoulda, woulda doesn't help us at this point."
Neither does going 0-for-7 from the floor with the game, and most likely, the season on the line.
The scene was eerily similar to the Nets’ Game 4 performance at home against Toronto in the opening round, when Brooklyn failed to make a hoop over the final 6:12 of regulation, resulting in a series-tying loss.
Of course, Pierce and the Nets rebounded from that defeat to take out the inexperienced Raptors in seven tough games, thanks to the former Finals MVP’s “Swat Heard ‘Round the World” on pesky Kyle Lowry’s bid for a game-winning lay-up.
But with James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company seeking their third straight NBA title and fourth consecutive trip to the Finals, Brooklyn appears to be out of free passes for enduring a rough stretch in crunch time of a critical playoff game.
“Both teams were playing really good defense,” Kidd noted. “Both teams, defensively, were holding pat. They made the shot. We didn’t.”
James, who expressed disappointment over failing to reach 50 points for the first time in his brilliant playoff career, settled instead for 49 on 16-of-24 shooting, six rebounds and three steals.
The King also had a pair of assists – none bigger than his feed to Chris Bosh for the go-ahead 3-pointer with under a minute to play.
"He was what was needed on the road," Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra said of James. "That's what makes him the best player in the game, whatever is needed. It could be on either end of the game, and sometimes that means facilitating and sometimes that means going out of the box and scoring 49."
Joe Johnson, who led five Brooklyn player in double figures with 18 points, missed a pair of key jumpers thereafter, both with James defending.
That left the Nets to wonder not only how this one got away, but how they were going to collect themselves in time to survive Game 5 in Miami.
“One thing we did talk about was taking one game, one possession at a time,” Johnson revealed. “Obviously, the series is not over but we really have to have urgency going to Miami and we got to come ready to roll.”
After a stirring Game 3 win in which they hit an NBA playoff-record 15 3-pointers, the Nets went 5-of-22 from beyond the arc Monday night.
James, who knocked down half of his six 3-point attempts, was unstoppable throughout, putting up 25 points by halftime and 40 entering the final period.
Despite the best player in the world putting on a show for the ages, the Nets were right where they wanted to be when Pierce wove his way down the lane and hit what many felt would be a series-turning shot.
But the Heat proved too much the Nets in the end game, and now Brooklyn must face the prospect of being sent home for the summer as early as Wednesday night.
"To win the whole series, you need to win on the road anyway,” insisted a defiant Andrei Kirilenko. “It's going to be a huge challenge for us, but the series is not over yet, so we are going to fight."
No one can deny that the Nets have fought the good fight thus far in this series against the defending champions.
They have even gone as far as to raise The King’s ire (perhaps that wasn’t such a good thing) following their post-game celebration in Game 3 and Pierce’s “we fear no one” declaration on Saturday night.
But it’s hard to imagine Brooklyn winning three in a row against the Heat at this time of year.
The four straight regular-season wins were nice, but playoff games are a different animal.
And James and the rest of Miami’s battled-tested roster appear primed to close the door on Season II in Brooklyn.
"It's very disappointing," Johnson glumly admitted. "We let one get away on our home floor."
The one that got away may be the one the Nets spend all summer lamenting.