CHICAGO -- It was right there for the taking.
The Nets were feeling good about themselves, thrilled to have Brook Lopez playing in the second game of a back-to-back as he works himself into form. They had a six-point cushion over the Bulls with roughly six minutes remaining.
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Then that mind-numbing problem they've had with closing crept up again.
Chicago (13-9) ended the game on a 12-2 run before a meaningless three-pointer by Deron Williams at the buzzer, turning what could've been a solid road win for the Nets into an 83-82 loss at the United Center Saturday night.
"We don't want to take anything away from them,'' Williams said, "but we feel like we lost this game with mistakes, defensive breakdowns and turnovers down the stretch. We never got organized, which was my fault."
The Nets (13-10) became unglued in the waning minutes, failing to do just about anything right after an encouraging start to the fourth quarter. They turned the ball over three times, misfired on six consecutive shots from the floor (before Williams' three) and allowed Marco Belinelli to waltz uncontested through the paint for the game-winning layup.
Joe Johnson, the buzzer-beating hero in Friday's double-overtime win over the Pistons, had two of those turnovers. The biggest one came with the Nets up 79-77 when he was double-teamed along the right side while attempting to execute a pick-and-roll. He got trapped and threw the ball away, leading to Luol Deng's fast-break dunk that squared it at 79 with 1:01 remaining.
"We had a couple of costly turnovers and I was the biggest culprit of it, me turning the ball over at crucial points of the game," Johnson said. " . . . They started doubling every time I had got the ball, and I knew they were going to trap me coming off the pick. But I was going to try to beat Joakim [Noah], and once I saw that I couldn't, I didn't see an outlet. I should have called timeout and I didn't."
Atrocious defense on the Bulls' final possession surely didn't help, either. Noah found a wide-open Belinelli (19 points) on the left side and he drove straight to the bucket to put the Bulls ahead 81-79 with 21.1 seconds left. "He pretty much walked down the lane, which can't happen," Williams said. "It's not what we want to see happen at a crucial point of the game."
Williams led the Nets with 24 points and five assists but had four turnovers. Johnson scored 16 points.
Lopez had 18 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Though he was on restricted minutes, he returned with 1:26 left and missed a hook shot that could've put the Nets back in front 22 seconds after Deng's dunk.
"We had to get him out," coach Avery Johnson said. "He basically went over his minutes and we had to give him a break. We were in constant communication and the staff had him on a 24-minute limit for the game."
Lopez, of course, wouldn't have minded a few extra minutes, but he didn't have a problem with Johnson sticking to the plan. "I knew about it beforehand," he said. "It was definitely premeditated. I was all for it. I completely trust the staff and the guys who are in the game. I was cool with it."
Johnson isn't cool with the way the Nets floundered late. Again. "This is definitely a tough one," he said. "Any time you can be up six points with [six] minutes on the clock or seven points and have control of the game on the road, you are in a great position. Tonight, we blew one."