ATLANTA — They played from behind all night, eating a Hawks haymaker in the first quarter and stumbling quickly into a double-digit deficit.
They clawed and climbed back into contention, fighting against a disappearing act from their point guard and 39-minute struggle from their gassed center.
And when the Nets reached that crucial moment, it was Joe Johnson holding the ball with his team trailing by two points and 1:45 remaining, standing at the top of the key and staring down the slower Al Horford.
“A mismatch,” coach Lionel Hollins called it.
Deron Williams fails to recapture his Game 4 magic on Wednesday ngiht.
“I knew I was going to drive,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want to settle (for a three-pointer) because we were only down two. I got to the basket, and my momentum was going so fast that I just blew the layup. It was a blown play by me in a pivotal moment of the game for us to tie it up. . . . I just didn’t make the layup.”
Johnson was being a little hard on himself after the Nets lost, 107-97, falling into a 3-2 deficit in their first-round series. It was a difficult play for the forward, especially with Paul Millsap collapsing on the drive and forcing Johnson into a reverse attempt. But it also represented the Nets’ best chance at winning Game 5 and saving themselves from the brink of elimination.
The alternative is now a daunting reality: eighth-seeded Brooklyn needs a victory at home Friday to keep alive its hopes of facing the Wizards in the conference semis. Then the Nets would have to win Game 7 on Sunday in Atlanta, where Brooklyn is 0-5 this season.
The odds have been tilted heavily in the Hawks’ favor, since historically 83% of teams who win a swing Game 5 such as Wednesday’s go on to capture the series.
“If we just played with stats we might as well just mail it in and let Atlanta stay home. That’s why they play the games,” Hollins said. “You’ve got to go play. The other team’s got to beat you four times. Yes, they have three, but there’s one more to be gotten, and we have to go out and compete and get that third win and then come back down here and be ready to try to get a fourth win — stats notwithstanding.”
So where did things go sour for Brooklyn in Game 5? Williams fell well short of recapturing his Game 4 glory, scoring just five points on 2-of-8 shooting as the goodwill from his 35-point effort two days earlier dissipated with each passing minute. Brook Lopez, who at 7 feet was the biggest player on the court (by far), came up small with just three rebounds in 39 minutes. He also missed nine of his 13 shots (15 points) and was outplayed by Horford, the Atlanta center who had 20 points and 15 rebounds.
Lopez, 27, who had been Brooklyn’s best player through the opening four games, failed to score in the fourth quarter as Atlanta closed on a 10-2 run.
“I missed some easy ones and I forced a lot, too,” Lopez said.
Joe Johnson cuts the Nets’ deficit to two but fails to tie the game when he has the chance.
Following Johnson’s missed layup, the Hawks hit three straight shots — two from Jeff Teague, one from Horford — and the Nets slinked away. Lopez, who has played at least 39 minutes in the last four games, couldn’t get a respite because the Hawks have purposefully fouled backup center Mason Plumlee, a poor foul shooter.
“(Lopez) was gassed. He was gassed the last two games at that point (late in the game),” Hollins said. “It’s really difficult. He’s a big man. We just couldn’t at that point afford to sub with another big guy — mainly Mase, and if they go into the hack-a-Mase, then it could’ve been detrimental. But he played through it. I just have to figure out a way to give him a little more rest in different times. Being behind (early) changed everything. And we were scratching and clawing. It’s just the way it is.”
With the starters struggling, Brooklyn got a boost from its bench — specifically Alan Anderson (playoff career-high 23 points) and Jarrett Jack (18).
But it wasn’t enough. The Nets came up short.
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