CHICAGO -- Only six days ago, the Nets seemingly were on top of the basketball world, riding an emotional tidal wave.
After pasting the Bulls in the opener of their Eastern Conference first-round series, they were the toast of Brooklyn, getting congratulatory pats on the back from all angles. But now they've lost all the series momentum and are in serious danger of getting bounced out altogether if they can't reverse this trend.
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By virtue of Thursday night's 79-76 Game 3 loss to Chicago at the United Center, which gave the Bulls a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 Saturday, these are desperate times for the Nets.
"Very desperate," Deron Williams said. "That's the perfect word. We've got to play with some desperation, play like it's a Game 7 . . . This is almost a must-win game for us."
The Nets took a 17-5 lead but played from behind for most of the game. They shot 34.6 percent from the field, and during one stretch spanning the first and second quarters, they misfired on 25 of 26 attempts.
The Nets certainly wouldn't have minded if someone had burned any piece of paper with their second-quarter numbers on it, all so they couldn't see them again. They hit only four of 18 attempts, managed one assist and turned the ball over four times.
But even with all that, after trailing by 17 early in the fourth quarter and falling behind by 15 with 5:47 left, the Nets came within two on Williams' basket with five seconds left.
Joakim Noah hit one of two free throws for a three-point Bulls lead with 4.4 seconds left, giving the Nets one final gasp to tie it with a three-pointer. But C.J. Watson's shot from beyond the right side of the arc hit nothing but air, sending the Nets to a second straight defeat.
"It wasn't designed to come to me," Watson said. "We just read the play, I got a good look and just missed it."
That was basically the Nets' theme of the night. They missed 53 of 81 attempts.
"We knew it was going to be tougher, but we didn't know we were going to shoot the way we have," Williams said. "We are not shooting the ball well at all right now and the things that we did in the first game, we are not really getting those same looks. A lot of it is because of their defense, but we have to get the ball swung to the weak side so their defense has to shift and they are not just hanging on one side."
Reggie Evans agreed.
"I feel like we didn't make the right adjustments," he said. " . . . We've got to hit the weak-side guard. That guy on the weak side in the corner, we've got to be able to hit him. And that's all a part of rotating the ball because that weak-side defender is just packing it in on the big guys and that's wide open. So we've got to be able to knock down some shots.''
If they do that, maybe they won't have to attempt such a furious comeback. If they don't, they'll fall into a 3-1 series hole.
"It hurts, but we still have confidence," Watson said. "We still believe we can win here. We've just got to play better the first three quarters. We played better in the fourth quarter and that's why we came back."