It’s win or stay home for desperate Nets
Face Playoff Elimination Following Game 5 Loss in Atlanta
Brook Lopez was “gassed”, Joe Johnson missed a potential tying layup down the stretch and Deron Williams hardly looked like a player coming off his best career playoff performance Wednesday night as the Nets were pushed to the brink of elimination with a 107-97 Game 5 loss in Atlanta.
Having won the previous two games in Brooklyn, the Nets were eager to post their first victory at Philips Arena this season entering this pivotal contest in front of 18,105 rabid Atlanta fans decked out in red.
But the Hawks quickly quelled their enthusiasm by running out to a 33-16 lead after 12 minutes.
“They came out like gangbusters,’’ said Jarrett Jack, who sparked Brooklyn’s too-little, too-late comeback bid with 18 points off the bench.
Much as they have done throughout this series, and this season for that matter, the Nets chipped away and fought back, closing within 97-95 on Johnson’s clutch 3-pointer with 2:20 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Brooklyn defense forced a turnover on the next Atlanta possession and Johnson, the Nets’ Mr. Big Shot throughout his stint in our fair borough, found himself with the ball on the ensuing trip.
He fearlessly backed his defender down and drove to the hole, trying to sink a reverse layup that would have dead-locked the game at 97-97 with 1:45 to go.
But the ball came off the rim and fell into the hands of Paul Millsap, marking the end of a furious fourth-quarter charge during which the Nets nearly erased a 14-point deficit.
Al Horford, playing through an injured finger, buried a 20-footer on the other end to cap a 20-point night and put Brooklyn in a 3-2 hole entering Friday night’s do-or-die Game 6 at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
Jeff Teague also scored 20 points for the Hawks, who are trying to avoid the indignity of becoming the sixth No. 1 seed to lose an opening-round NBA playoff series.
“This was a game we really wanted to get,” Atlanta sharp-shooter Kyle Korver told the Associated Press after hitting five 3-pointers en route to 17 points.
“I thought we responded, maybe a little too late,” Jack added after the Nets’ fifth consecutive loss in Atlanta this season. “We kind of fought an uphill battle all night. But I’m still proud of my guys. Fought tooth and nail. Had every reason to give up and pack it in but we gave them a good fight down the stretch.”
Lopez, who finished with 15 points on 4-for-13 shooting, logged nearly 39 minutes of playing time as Nets head coach Lionel Hollins admitted he was wary of installing backup center Mason Plumlee due to Atlanta’s strategy of automatically fouling the poor free-throw shooting big man.
“He’s been gassed the last two games,” Hollins said of Lopez, who only pulled down three rebounds as Brooklyn was beaten on the boards, 43-35. “I just have to figure out a way to give him a little more rest.”
Alan Anderson led the Brooklyn attack with 23 points off the pine, going 9-of-11 from the floor, including a perfect 4-for-4 effort on 3-pointers.
Johnson added 18 points for the Nets, who didn’t come close to getting a second straight virtuoso performance from Williams, who torched the Hawks for a career playoff high-tying 35 points in a Game 4 overtime victory.
The embattled $98 million point guard put up just five points on 2-of-8 shooting in 32 minutes, marking the third time in the last four contests he has managed to make two field goals or fewer. He went a combined 2-for-15 spanning Games 2 and 3.
“They knocked us back in the beginning but we got the game back to a manageable number,’’ Hollins said. “They were a little more desperate than us in their focus and concentration and it showed.”
That desperation should be back on the Nets’ side Friday night as Brooklyn tries to avert its second first-round elimination in three seasons since arriving in our fair borough.
During their inaugural 2012-13 campaign here, the Nets dropped a heartbreaking Game 7 to Chicago at home in the opening round. They posted a dramatic Game 7 victory in Toronto last season before bowing out to eventual Eastern Conference champion Miami in the second round.
Now, they are in position to force their third Game 7 in as many seasons, one that would send them back to Atlanta for Sunday’s series finale, and possibly create a chance to face former Net Paul Pierce and the Washington Wizards in the conference semifinals.
“Now we got to look forward to Friday and try to force a Game 7,” a resilient Jack insisted.
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