Once again, the Nets didn't finish.
But this time, their superstar wasn’t around to explain why.
All-Star point guard Deron Williams left the Prudential Center without talking to reporters after the Nets folded in the final minute of their third straight loss, a 105-100 defeat to the Cavaliers, which dropped them even further out of the playoff race.
Despite being frustrated as the injuries and losses have continued to mount, Williams has always been a standup guy in the locker room, ready and willing to answer most questions from the media -- even if he hasn't felt like it. But on Monday night, his actions spoke louder than words.
"Nobody wants to lose, especially the way we lost," newcomer Gerald Wallace said.
The Nets held an 88-82 lead with 7:11 left in the fourth quarter, but let it slip away.
With the game tied at 97, Kris Humphries committed a turnover, and Tristan Thompson's tip-in with 1:11 remaining gave the Cavaliers a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Wallace and Williams missed layups in the last 60 seconds, and D-Will and Humphries failed to communicate on a pass that would've brought the Nets within 103-102 with 13.9 ticks left.
Williams, who passed up a 3-pointer that could've tied the game, thought Humphries was going to roll to the basket for an open layup. He didn't, figuring his point guard would take the shot, and the ball went out of bounds for a turnover -- one of four committed by the Nets in the final period. Kyrie Irving was fouled, hit two free throws on the other end and that was it.
"We were down by three. We needed a three. Obviously, I should have rolled regardless," Humphries said. "I thought he was going to put it up. I'll take responsibility for that. We were out of timeouts as well. If I [would've] rolled, I would have been wide open so I guess that's on me."
The Nets wound up shooting 8-for-25 from the field in the fourth -- including 1-for-6 in the final 1:51.
"We gave up some awful plays that shouldn't have been given up, and [Deron] had that turnover at the end, where you have one player thinking [of shooting] a 3, and the other thinking about [taking] the quick 2. So that's a situation where everybody's not on the same page," Wallace said.
"We can't make those mistakes at the end of the game. We gotta get better at that."
The Nets (15-32, 5-17 home) have now lost five of their past six games; three of those defeats coming against teams with losing records. So much for that "playoff push" GM Billy King was hoping for when he dealt a top-three protected first-round pick for Wallace.
"It was a game we really wanted, a game we really needed," MarShon Brooks said. "But once again we didn't execute very well down the stretch, and they did."
On Saturday night, the Nets held a 12-point lead going into the fourth vs. New Orleans, but were outscored 32-12 over the final 12 minutes and lost. And on Monday night, they carried that debacle over against the Cavaliers, who outscored them 30-17 in the first quarter.
The Nets fought back behind Williams' 17 second-quarter points to pull within three at the half, but once again, it was another slow start that contributed to a New Jersey loss.
Same old Nets.
By the time it was over, they'd been outscored 66-40 in the paint, given up 21 offensive rebounds and been outrebounded 55-37. Thompson abused the Nets inside for a career-high 27 points and 12 rebounds on 12-for-16 shooting.
"They came out aggressive and we didn't match their aggression," Humphries said. "I think they had like 20 or 21 offensive rebounds. And they just beat us up down there."
Prior to scoring a game-high 28 points and dishing out eight assists on 8-for-23 shooting, Williams expressed his opinion that the Nets would've been a playoff team had they not sustained so many injuries throughout the course of the 2011-12 campaign. They certainly could've used Brook Lopez on Monday night.
Now, 19 games remain. Williams is clearly frustrated. So how do the Nets appease him?
At this point, they can't upgrade their roster. They can't win, either.
Williams may Nets love management, the marketing opportunities he has been afforded and the possibility of a five-year, $109 million contract extension with a team heading into the world's biggest market and a $1 billion arena, but he hates losing.
And clearly it's gotten to him. On the bright side, he clearly cares. There's no doubting that.