MIAMI, FL. — $100 million bought the Nets a zero, and 100 seconds cost them a win.
In their most important game of the season yet, Nets guard, franchise player, and near $100 million man Deron Williams missed all nine of his field goal attempts in 36 minutes, going scoreless in a playoff game for the first time in his career, as the Nets fell behind 2-0 to the Miami Heat after a 94-82 loss in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals. It was the most field goal attempts Williams has ever had in a single game, regular season or playoffs, without hitting a shot or scoring a point from the free throw line. He missed two open three-point attempts, an open jumper, and was blocked at the rim twice.
Williams contributed in other ways, adding seven rebounds and six assists, but those are numbers you can get from a third-string point guard, not the man that initiated Brooklyn’s “win now” strategy in 2011. “I thought he had some great looks,” coach Jason Kidd said after the game. “Some just rolled around the rim.”
The team will discount this as just one game, but Williams has never had a game this bad with the stakes this high. In Game 7 of their first-round series against a tough Chicago Bulls team last season, Williams scored a team-high 24 points, and was their only effective offensive option in the fourth quarter. He had an excellent Game 6 and a solid Game 7 in two elimination games against the Toronto Raptors.
But 0-9, with good looks and bad alike, with drives to the rim and three-pointers, with hesitation to shoot in the fourth quarter, does not a franchise player make.
“I just couldn’t buy a bucket,” Williams said, dejected. “Didn’t get to the FT line either. … I’ll definitely be thinking about it. … I had a couple open looks, got to the basket, thought I got fouled on a couple, but no call. You just got to keep playing.”
The Nets didn’t play their brand of disruptive defense, forcing just six turnovers after two live-ball swipes in the first two possessions of the game, and hitting just 2 of 15 three-point attempts by players not named Mirza Teletovic. (Pierce was the only other player to hit a three-pointer.)
They had a chance in an ugly, slow battle with the defending champion Miami Heat, with just a two-point deficit and 6:15 remaining. This was the type of game they wanted, far from Game 1’s third-quarter collapse and fourth-quarter run with their bench.
But the Heat are the defending champions, and they flexed their muscles: first came a Mario Chalmers left side corner three-pointer, flung over the extended fingers of a closing-out Deron Williams. 45 seconds later came Ray Allen — the most prolific three-point shooter in NBA history — burying another one from the exact same spot. Both shots came with under 10 on the shot clock, as the Heat maximized their possessions.
Hope was not lost. With 3:39 left, Nets backup forward Mirza Teletovic — who scored a team-high 20 points and set a franchise playoff record with six three-pointers, five in the first half — hit a reverse layup off a pretty feed from Paul Pierce at the top of the key, ending an 8-0 Heat run and cutting the lead to 87-79 with 3:39 left.
But the Heat kept Brooklyn at bay simply by keeping the ball in their possession, maximizing four shot clock opportunities with three offensive rebounds. The first offensive rebound was Ray Allen’s eighth of the game, a team-high from the 6’4″ shooting guard, and came as he slunk between four Nets defenders in the paint and snared the loose ball.
Two offensive rebounds and two fully-used shot clocks later, Dwyane Wade found an open LeBron James under the basket — how does LeBron James get open under the basket in a playoff game? — for a layup with 1:59 left.
“That was a killer,” a distraught Joe Johnson monotoned in the locker room.
100 seconds, gone off the clock in crunch time. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball, and with possession so crucial, every second off the clock reduces your winning odds. An eight-point deficit with just under four minutes is a difficult but winnable game. A ten-point deficit with 1:59 left, after a team has just beaten you to three straight loose balls? Different story.
“It hurt us,” Pierce said of those 100 seconds. “We were down by eight, and we needed the possession. We needed every possession at that point, and it’s very deflating when you play good defense for three straight possessions and you don’t get the rebound. It’s very deflating, especially when you’re trying to come back on the road.”
The Nets travel to Brooklyn Friday to protect home court, and Saturday’s game could decide the season: no team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, the Heat have never lost once up 2-0 in a series, and the Nets have lost in both blowout style and a crunch-time collapse.
“We’ve got to stay confident, keep talking to one another, stay positive, and keep having each other’s back,” Johnson added. “This series is far from over.”
They’d better hope that’s true.