Blow late eight-point lead in season-ending loss to Heat
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Toughness, resiliency and sacrifice.
These were the three staples the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets hung their hats on entering what some thought would be an historic season in our fair borough.
All three abandoned them when they needed them most.
A second straight late-game meltdown, and the third overall during this at times thrilling, but all-too-short postseason run, cost the Nets a chance at bringing the Eastern Conference semifinals home for a much-anticipated Game 6 at Barclays Center.
Nine consecutive missed shots with Game 5 on the line resulted in a come-from-behind 96-94 victory for the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Wednesday night in South Beach, leaving the Nets to spend another long, and perhaps expensive summer lamenting what could have been.
The Nets, who let Game 4 slip away on Monday evening right here in Downtown Brooklyn because they went 0-of-7 down the stretch, let an eight-point advantage disintegrate over the final four minutes in the series finale.
''Give the Heat credit,'' Nets coach Jason Kidd humbly stated. ''They were attacking there in the fourth quarter. We were attacking. Both teams were attacking. They made plays, they made shots and we didn't.''
In all, the Nets missed 16 big shots in a row during crunch time of Games 4 and 5, turning a possible 3-2 series advantage heading into a potential Game 6 in Brooklyn on Friday night into what will surely be the summer of their discontent.
Joe Johnson proved heroic, to a point, in Game 5, scoring a game-high 34 points and answering LeBron James (29 points) and Dwyane Wade (28) throughout the final period until he and his teammates ran out of answers yet again.
Johnson had the ball in his hands with the clock winding down and Brooklyn down just two points.
“Big Shot Joe”, who has closed out numerous games during his two-season tenure with the Nets by nailing buzzer-beating shots, never even got the ball up for a shot at the basket.
"I was in a crowd," Johnson said of his final bid to keep the Nets’ season alive. “But it shouldn't have even come down to that. We didn't execute down the stretch offensively or defensively."
Ray Allen and James both took clean swaps at the ball, and James finally swept it out of Johnson’s hands before rushing to the scorer’s table and lifting his arms in triumph in front of the capacity crowd after securing Miami’s fourth straight berth in the conference finals.
"Overwhelmingly, the No. 1 key in this series was great mental stability,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, looking to lead the Heat into their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, noted.
In other words, what the world champions had in such great abundance, the Nets sorely lacked.
“You have to have [it] throughout the course of each game, each possession. That's what it was down the stretch,” Spoelstra added. “You can't get caught up in frustrations, you can't get caught up in trying to get a 10-point play. It just takes incredible focus, to concentrate one possession at a time.”
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, champions from their days in Boston, were brought here as part of Mikhail Prokhorov’s $180 million-plus championship-or-bust project to provide the Nets with greater moxie in the end game.
Instead, the aging duo simply slumped off the court with the rest of Brooklyn’s frustrated players as Miami once again proved it was tougher, more resilient and better able to sacrifice in late-game pressure situations.
“Obviously, it’s a game we thought we should have won,” admitted Johnson, who put together his second 30-plus point game on the road during these playoffs only to be sent home.
Dating to their late meltdown in Game 4 of the first-round series with Toronto – a brutal 3-for-17 shooting effort in the fourth quarter – the Nets virtually gave away three of their final nine games this season.
That doesn’t exactly bolster the notion that they enhanced their ability to overcome adversity with the well-publicized roster additions they made this past offseason.
Now, Pierce is eligible for free agency, Garnett may be contemplating retirement, though he has a year remaining on his contract, and important role players like Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche could be seeking greener pastures in 2014-15.
Prokhorov, who continues to believe in his five-year plan (we’ll be entering Year Four next November), was quick to release a statement following the Nets’ ouster at the hands of the Heat.
“I'd like to thank Nets management and players for all their efforts over the course of this crazy season,” he said. “Despite roster changes, injuries and a difficult start, you clawed us back into contention. It made for a thrilling spring. And to the fans, thank you for your support through thick and thin. Next season, we pick up right where we left off!”
Where exactly that is will be anyone’s guess going forward.
But for now, the Nets most swallow a pair of painful losses that won’t go down an easier considering the price their billionaire owner paid to construct what some felt was the deepest and most decorated roster in the sport.
"It's a process, and we just put this [team] together," Kidd pointed out. "To get to the second round gives us something to build on."