INDIANAPOLIS -- It was right there for the taking.
The Nets had the Eastern Conference's top team directly in their crosshairs, exerting the kind of effort that was nonexistent 24 hours earlier in their embarrassing loss to the Thunder.
They were all knotted up with the Pacers with a little more than 10 minutes remaining, riding an emotional wave after erasing an 11-point third-quarter deficit.
But they didn't have enough left to make it happen. Paul Pierce missed two potential tying three-pointers in the final 73 seconds, and although Deron Williams sank a three with four-tenths of a second left, it left the Nets a point short in their 97-96 loss to Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"Man, I think they had a sequence where they got like three or four straight rebounds. That kind of killed us," Kevin Garnett said after the Nets' third straight defeat on the heels of a 10-1 stretch. "We had a couple of times where we could've turned the corner, just a little bit too late. We had opportunities.
"Obviously, we didn't like the way we played last night, and to come in here and fight this team in here at home, these guys who are playing very well, I thought the effort was valid . . . We've got to continue to play like this."
Shaun Livingston scored a season-high 24 points for the Nets (20-25), who were without injured Andray Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko. Williams struggled in his return to the starting lineup, shooting 3-for-12 and scoring 13 points.
For the second straight night, the Nets' inability to rebound did them in. The Pacers (36-10), led by Paul George's 20 points, snatched 46 rebounds -- 12 on the offensive end -- compared with 27 for the Nets.
"I think the offensive rebounds definitely hurt us a little bit tonight, especially at the end," Williams said. "We had a four-possession stretch where we got stops. It's just we couldn't get the rebounds and it just gave them extra possessions and took time off the clock. So that was part of it, and coming down to the end, they just made more plays than we did."
The Nets trailed 72-70 at the start of the fourth quarter, thanks in part to Livingston's torrid third-quarter stretch after they fell behind by 11. He had a personal 8-0 run that helped the Nets claw within 67-66.
The Nets were in it for the entire fourth quarter and trailed 89-86 after Williams hit three straight free throws, one of which came after a technical foul on Pacers coach Frank Vogel.
But David West banked in a tough jumper with 57 seconds left for a 93-88 edge before a basket by Williams and a long corner three-pointer by Joe Johnson, sandwiched around George Hill's free throw, whittled the Pacers' lead to 94-93 with 8.5 seconds left.
West sank two free throws with 7.6 seconds remaining to push Indiana's lead back to three. After Pierce's desperation three from the left corner barely hit the glass, West hit another free throw with 4.2 seconds left for a four-point lead.
So much for the Nets' hot streak. They're forced to navigate their way through more mental hurdles, another bumpy stretch that's testing their resolve.
"Listen, man, in basketball and in sports in general, it's about confidence," Garnett said. "It ain't about getting down because you lost one or two. It's not how you throw the punches, it's how you take the punches, you know what I mean? We have to keep living and learning, keep battling back and kind of turn this thing around."