Late steal robs Brooklyn of certain victory
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Richard Sherman's got nothing on Patrick Patterson.
The Seattle Seahawks' star cornerback was front and center during the Nets' battle for first place against the visiting Toronto Raptors on Monday night at the Barclays Center.
He had a courtside seat for Patterson's game-turning steal and jumper that handed the resurgent Nets just their second loss in 12 games -- both to Toronto -- since we entered the New Year.
The play was eerily similar to Sherman's brilliant deflection of a Colin Kaepernick pass during last Sunday's NFC Championship Game in Seattle, the "Tip Heard 'Round the World' that thrust the Seahawks into this weekend's Super Bowl showdown against Denver at MetLife Stadium.
"Patrick looked like Richard Sherman out there with that steal," noted Raptors guard Kyle Lowry after torching Brooklyn for 31 points, seven assists and five rebounds during Toronto's 104-103 victory before a disappointed crowd of 15,790 Brooklyn faithful.
”These guys are chasing us. We're the only team that beat them in 2014. I mean, that's a tough team. They had the game and we made a play and we made a shot.''
Unfortunately for the Nets, it was Deron Williams, playing his fifth straight game off the bench since returning from his latest bout with ankle issues, who filled the role of Kaepernick.
His inbound pass toward Joe Johnson with 11 seconds to go got deflected and swiped by Patterson, who fed Lowry before accepting a return pass, which he calmly sank from 12 feet out for the deciding points with six ticks remaining.
Paul Pierce, who established a Net career-high with 33 points, saw his bid for a game-winning 3-pointer fall shy of the basket at the buzzer, leaving Brooklyn to wonder what could have been.
"It's tough," admitted Williams after amassing nine points and 11 assists during the Nets' first home defeat in eight contests. "Nothing I can do now. Can't take it back."
The Nets (20-23) were poised to tie the Raptors (20-23) in the loss column and move within one-half game of the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
Instead, they find themselves 2 1/2 games behind Toronto entering a difficult two-game stretch that begins Friday night here against the NBA's leading scorer, Kevin Durant, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
On Saturday, Brooklyn will travel to Indiana to face Eastern Conference-leading Indiana.
"This was a big game for us," Williams said. "It was definitely a tough loss, especially how it ended, for me, for the team."
The Nets suffered their only other 2014 defeat at the hands of the Raptors, 96-80, in Toronto on Jan. 11. That loss ended their previous five-game winning streak since we flipped the calendar.
Brooklyn head coach Jason Kidd didn't downplay the importance of the loss, even though his team was just 24 hours removed from an emotional win at Boston on Sunday during which Pierce and Kevin Garnett received a hero's welcome from Celtics fans.
"I think that Toronto is a very good team," he noted. "They are well-coached and I think this division, record-wise, might not look good, but you got some quality teams in it."
While no one expected the Nets to go 50-1 in 2014, that didn't stop the players from voicing their deep dismay with basically giving away a game that would have thrust them closer to the Raptors in the Atlantic race.
"We're very disappointed," Johnson intimated after netting 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting and committing a team-high four of the Nets' 18 turnovers. "Especially because I felt we had the game in hand. We just had a couple costly turnovers and that kind of hurt us a little bit."
"We fought so hard to come back [from a late nine-point deficit], but we put ourselves in a bad position," added Pierce, who drained 10-of-16 shots, including 7-of-10 from 3-point range. "We got down late, we got down in the fourth quarter and we had to claw our way back. We gave ourselves a chance to win. Sometimes that's all you can ask for. We just didn't execute properly down the stretch."
The Nets must now refocus on building another winning streak as they continue to chase down the Raptors and the .500 mark.
Ironically, their 2014 run began with Johnson's buzzer-beating jumper in Oklahoma City on Jan. 2.
With Durant and the Thunder coming to town Friday eager for revenge, Kidd knows the value of his team putting a brutal loss behind it as soon as possible.
"I am very confident," Kidd said. "We have a veteran group of guys and we've been executing down the stretch offensively and defensively. And this is just a game that we made a mistake at the end."
Williams can't wait to make amends for his ill-fated pass.
"It definitely hurts that we got three days to sit and think about it," he noted. "That makes it even worse."
Worse still if the Nets can't find a way to knock off the Thunder or Pacers before Sherman and the Seahawks hit the field in East Rutherford, N.J., Sunday night against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Nothing But Net: The Nets also had a 10-1 start to 2013 under then-interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. ... Pierce joined Johnson, injured C Brook Lopez and Mirza Teletovic as the only Nets to register at least 30 points in a game this season. Last year, only Williams, Johnson and Lopez achieved that feat for Brooklyn. ... C Andray Blatche had 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting Monday night and is averaging 17 points in six games since being deactivated by Kidd earlier this month, reportedly for fitness issues. ... With his next 3-pointer, Williams will move past Keith Van Horn (335) for sole possession of fifth place on the Nets' all-time list. ... Garnett grabbed a team-high 11 boards Monday, but the Nets were out-rebounded by Toronto, 43-36. ... After visiting the Pacers, the Nets will return home to host Philadelphia next Monday. ... Making Monday's loss even harder to swallow was the absence of the Raptors top scorer, DeMar Derozan, who sat out with a sprained foot. "It takes the whole village to win the game and we did," noted Toronto coach Dwane Casey. .. The Nets are 1-2 against the Raptors this season. The Atlantic Division frontrunners will meet for the fourth and final regular-season meeting March 10 at Barclays.