For a team that has veterans and clutch players galore, the Nets have done a poor job down the stretch of playoff games. In the final five minutes of games during this postseason, Brooklyn has a -25 point differential and their opponents have shot 53 percent from the field. Their defensive efficiency is a woeful 133.9. Game 3 against the Raptors was almost a disaster, while Game 2 against the Heat saw the Nets blow their opportunity at tying the series before going home. And then, of course, there was Monday night's Game 4.
Brooklyn was playing catch up for most of the game, staying within five points for the majority of the third quarter but failing to get over the hump and take the lead. Then the Nets took control a minute into the fourth, and went up by as much as three. The Heat were relentless though and the game went back and forth like a seesaw for the remainder of the game. Following a Paul Pierce and-one floater, the Nets were up by one with 4:25 on the game clock. Brooklyn had all the momentum despite LeBron James having 43 points at that point.
After that, the Nets just fell apart. It wasn't just that LeBron continued to dominate past that 4:25 mark, the Nets just couldn't develop effective offense sets and reverted to last season's tactics: isolations. Brooklyn also made fundamental mistakes on defense that can't happen during the late stages of games.
Let's look at several plays that led to the Nets loss last night.
2:11 left, Nets 94, Heat 94
Brooklyn is in transition and looking to get a quick look. Kevin Garnett realizes that his man, Chris Bosh, is on the block, so he sets a high screen for Joe Johnson. Mario Chalmers is forced to hedge onto Johnson and KG gets some room at the elbow to operate. Once he gets it, Garnett has some space to take his patent mid-range jumper. But he instead opts to take a power dribble to the side-which he does often anyway, but he had a lot of space initially, making it a questionable decision.
By the time Garnett gets his shot up, Bosh was all over him and he missed badly. KG could have tried a cross-court pass to Deron Williams in the corner, or just pull it out, considering there was still 14 seconds on the shot clock when he shot it.
1:37 left, Nets 94, Heat 94
The Nets manage to get another stop and come the other way. Paul Pierce drives and kicks to Williams, who does the same thing Pierce did but kicks it to Johnson. Johnson gets the ball with a little less than 14 seconds left on the shot clock in the corner. He doesn't have much position, so he brings it out beyond the three-point line, and with 12 seconds left on the shot clock, it is "Iso-Joe." There wasn't a screen set during this particular set and no cuts to get open. Johnson gets one of his go-to shots off-a step-back jumper from the short corner after backing his man down-but against LeBron James that is a tough, tough shot. Johnson misses short and the Nets give up another opportunity to seize control of the game.
1:15 left, Nets 94, Heat 94
This game is still tied with 75 seconds remaining. The Nets defense had some hiccups late, but managed to keep the team in it down the stretch to despite their disappearing offense. During this sequence, though, the house of cards finally gave out on them.
First off, this was a great ATO by Erik Spoelstra, which eventually leads to a LeBron screen for Dwyane Wade. Both Pierce and Johnson end up covering Wade, which leaves LeBron open in the paint. Pierce recovers and doubles LeBron with Garnett. At this point, there are three Heat players on the right wing, with only two Nets able to defend them. Next, Wade makes a great cut to clear out Johnson, leaving only Williams to cover Chalmers and Bosh. The ball gets out of the paint and to Chalmers, who Williams lunges at, but then the ball goes to a wide-open Bosh who nails the dagger three. Garnett was still in the paint and had to recover back to his man, and despite his age, no one could have made up that ground to Bosh to get a good contest.
56 seconds left, Heat 97, Nets 94
Right after Bosh gives the defending champions the lead, the Nets have an opportunity to stay within striking distance. They don't need to go for a three at this stage in the game, but they should definitely move quickly for a good shot. Instead, the Nets go to another isolation for Johnson and don't set one screen during the entire set or make a cut.
LeBron may have fouled Johnson when he makes his initial dribble, but the officials would never call that. LeBron then "flops" which alters Johnson's shot into a crazy runner that is also left short. Either way, the Nets didn't get a good look at the rim, or run an efficient set to get a great look to stay in the game. The Nets are at their best when they swing the ball and get guys moving off the ball and off of screens. However, the team resorted to what held them back last year, isolations, and it may be what sinks them this year.
35 seconds left, Heat 97, Nets 94
The Nets need one stop to have their hopes of winning stay alive. This time, Pierce and Johnson correctly switch between Wade and LeBron and Pierce is all over James as he pulls up from the elbow-extended (Pierce may have even fouled him). That's not the key point in this play. The key is Johnson stepping in front of Bosh in the paint and losing Wade. LeBron leaves the ball short and Wade is right where the ball hits off the rim, where Johnson should have been. Wade gets fouled and the Heat inbound the ball and puts the game away.
Overall, the Nets played as tough as any team has against Miami since San Antonio last season. They battled with the best team in basketball and hung around in the game despite LeBron going for 49 points. Unfortunately, they crumpled down the stretch, something that wasn't expected to happen when the organization acquired the likes of Pierce and Garnett.
But here they are, down 3-1 against the defending champs going back to their court. Do they have one last run in them?