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Nets' collapse a bad sign for playoff drive

NEW YORK -- It was baffling, and yet, at the same time, it really wasn't.

After all, anyone who has seen a lot of the Brooklyn Nets this season knows just how bad this team is down the stretch of games.

But their latest collapse in crunch time wasn't just bad. It was awful.

The Nets had a 15-point lead at home with 5:45 left in regulation Monday night -- and ending up losing 108-100 in overtime to the Phoenix Suns.

They allowed the Suns to close the fourth quarter on a 16-1 run -- missing all seven of their shots and committing four turnovers over that stretch.

On the final play of regulation, Nets coach Lionel Hollins stunningly sat max players Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. (Johnson, mind you, has been as clutch as it gets until recently.)

Jarrett Jack and Thaddeus Young ran a pick-and-roll, and Jack missed a 22-foot jumper as time expired. Jack had made two last-second, game-winning midrange jumpers in victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors -- with Johnson and Lopez on the floor for those plays. (At least use Johnson as a decoy…)

Over the final 9:44 of the game, the Nets were outscored 32-9 while going 3-for-18 from the field -- 0-for-5 from 3-point range.

"We just couldn't execute," Hollins said. "You gotta make plays."

Hollins didn't put any of the blame on himself, though he certainly deserves at least some of it.

As stated above, the Nets have struggled in crunch time all season. It seems like they just abandon their playbook on offense, run a lot of isolation sets and miss a lot of shots. On defense, they frequently suffer breakdowns and fail to get stops. It's on the players, but it's also on the coach, too.

In the last five minutes of games in which the Nets are ahead or behind by five or fewer points, they are shooting 37.2 percent from the field -- including 24.6 percent from 3-point range.

"When we play like that, it's not a secret that we're not a great team," said Deron Williams, who shot 2-for-16 from the field and had four of Brooklyn's 20 turnovers. He also missed two shots in the final minutes of OT with the Nets down 102-100.

"We got stagnant. We just couldn't score," he added.

The Nets are now 25-35 overall, 7-26 against .500-or-better teams. They’re now 1½ games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 22 games remaining, and they wasted a career night from rookie Cory Jefferson, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds in 16 minutes.

Johnson sat from the 7:31 mark of the third to the 1:37 mark of the fourth. He does look fatigued and might still be hampered by minor injuries. And perhaps it makes more sense to start Young at power forward and move Johnson back to small forward because banging against taller, bigger players is a tough task for a 33-year-old who has logged nearly 38,000 minutes during his 14-year career.

"It wasn't that surprising to me [not being out there]. [Lionel] had a group of guys in there that were playing well," Johnson said. "And he felt that they could pull it out. I was just over there being a great teammate, just cheering the guys on."

If the Nets fail to make the postseason, this particular collapse could be the difference.

It's truly baffling -- except it really isn't.