After battling from 26 points down, the Nets somehow had a shot to either force overtime or win the game in the final four seconds.
Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Andray Blatche threw a pass that soared over Deron Williams' head into the backcourt for a violation that ended the Nets’ improbable comeback and effectively sealed a 115-113 loss to the Raptors. Williams never had a chance to make what could have been a game-winning 3-pointer, and no one will ever know what might've been for Williams and the Nets.
The wild finish was apropos for Brooklyn. After all, like Blatche’s errant pass, the Nets have pretty much thrown away every opportunity they have had so far to win this series.
Blatche’s mistake, which is far from the main reason the Nets lost, has Brooklyn on the verge of becoming a $190 million mistake as upstart Toronto pushed the Nets to the brink of elimination by taking a 3-2 series lead.
Brooklyn, a team that cost a fortune in salary and luxury tax, has to find a way to do something it hasn’t done yet in this series: play a complete game and its best basketball. And the Nets have to do it twice in a row just to get out of the first round, or they will become a colossal and incredibly expensive bust.
“Without a doubt,” Paul Pierce said of the team believing it can beat Toronto two straight times, starting Friday in Game 6. “We got to take care of home. And we’ll see them back here Sunday.”
It wasn’t designed to go this way last summer, when the Nets were assembled with Jason Kidd’s hiring and the much-ballyhooed trade for Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Nets were thinking Eastern Conference championship and more. The blueprint didn't have first-round exit written on it.
Heck, the final play Wednesday shouldn’t even have seen Blatche holding the ball. Ideally, the ball would have been in Pierce’s hands. But Pierce and Garnett were on the bench for the entire fourth.
Before Blatche’s throwaway, the Nets appeared to try their best to throw the game away, letting Toronto score 34 points in the second quarter and sprint into halftime on a 26-4 run.
Kyle Lowry orchestrated the run, owning the Nets and Williams by scoring 21 of his 36 points in the first half. He even took the ball with two seconds left, blew by Williams and Shaun Livingston and banked in a running 31-foot prayer at the buzzer to send the Nets into the half down 62-44.
The motley crew slowly began chipping away at the lead as Johnson heated up. Fighting foul trouble for the entire game, Johnson jump-started the comeback, scoring 18 of his 30 points in the third quarter.
And after playing passively in the first half and having just three points, the aggressive Williams showed up in the fourth and scored 10 points. Toronto tightened up and kept fouling the Nets on made baskets.
The Nets went on a 29-7 run, and the score was tied at 101 after Johnson buried a 3 with 3:18 remaining. All the while, Pierce and Garnett cheered on.
“They deserved to be out there to give us a chance, a shot at winning it,” Pierce said. “We have full confidence in them.”
Kidd kept asking his five on the floor if they were tired. They said they had enough left in the tank. So he stuck with that group. The score was tied at 106, but Lowry drilled a gutsy 3-pointer with 1:04 remaining.
The Raptors led by five with 17.5 seconds remaining, but Anderson hit a 3 and was fouled with 9.7 left. After two DeMar DeRozan free throws, Blatche was fouled with 4.9 seconds to go.
Blatche made the first foul shot but missed the second. He said he tried to make the free throw.
Livingston, who subbed in for Johnson because the shooter had five fouls, flew in and was able to tip the loose ball to Blatche. The big man moved out near the 3-point side on the left. With Lowry running out to him, Blatche saw Williams open above the key, but Blatche’s pass sailed away under pressure.
“Shaun made a great play to keep the ball alive,” said Blatche, who scored all seven of his points in the fourth. “I tried to get the ball out to D-Will to get a 3 and take the game home. But somebody ran out there to try to make a tougher pass and backcourt [violation].”
“It was unfortunate that pass I made,” Blatche added. “Too strong.”
Blatche also explained that the ball slipped out of his hands.
Fitting, since this series and all those championship dreams from last summer are on the verge of slipping away for good for the Nets, unless they have one final and spectacular comeback in them.