Let’s see them do it again. That was the inevitable challenge regarding the Nets, two days after a surprisingly commanding win. Let’s see if they could beat the Heat the way they had defeated the Thunder. The answer was not quite. Close, but not quite.
It was a completely different kind of game than the one on Sunday, in which the Nets led wire-to-wire. This time at Barclays Center, they went toe-to-toe with a solid, if not elite, opponent and fell short, 102-98.
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As hard as they tried, despite 20 points from Andrea Bargnani, the Nets just could not keep up with or stop or overcome Miami’s Big Two, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who each had 27 points, many of them just when the points were needed the most.
“Those were superstar shots — contested high, a couple of them falling away, off the glass,” Nets point guard Donald Sloan said.
Nets coach Tony Brown said, “There are no moral victories,” but added, “I thought we played aggressive. I thought we were into it. I thought the first half, we showed we were trying to be consistent with the effort, like we were against Oklahoma City. We just had a couple guys who put extreme pressure on you defensively.”
For instance, there was the play in which Wade drove strongly, made the basket and drew a foul, with 1:31 left. And again, there was Wade breaking free from Wayne Ellington and Brook Lopez, leaning back and sinking a 20-footer to make it 99-93 with 1:04 remaining. Each of those moves drew piercing roars from Miami fans among 15,267 at Barclays Center — which had to irritate true Nets fans, including owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who was there.
But the Nets played hard and well enough to draw their own cheers and chants. Plus, they had a chance to tie with 20.9 seconds left, but Ellington’s rushed, pressured three-pointer missed. Bosh grabbed the rebound, got fouled and made one of them, pretty much putting it away.
So the Nets could not quite repeat the offensive burst that brought them a 116-106 win over Oklahoma City Sunday or a 111-105 victory in Miami Dec. 28. Their problem was the Heat, a solid defensive team, reprised the second half effort that had given it an 89-84 victory over the Bulls Monday. The Nets didn’t match their 57-point first-half total and made 13 of their 16 turnovers after halftime.
“I thought we turned the ball over a couple times, that ignited their offense,” said Lopez, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds, adding that it looked to him like the same old Wade and Bosh. “You know, they do just a great job of moving the ball constantly on offense. You can tell they’re always composed, regardless of the score. They obviously come from a championship pedigree. They’ve been there before.”
It looked to everyone like a brand new Bargnani. The Nets reserve big man had a stunning shooting night, 9 of 12, despite having been listed as questionable because of an illness.
“My teammates found me on the pick and pop. It was all good passes and open shots. I was just aggressive,” Bargnani said. “I think it was a good game. We played with a good effort, we gave ourselves a chance to win. The last two minutes they made some tough shots and we didn’t. That was the game.”
For the Nets, it was a pretty solid game. Just not as a good a one as they had on Sunday.