Paul Pierce, Deron Williams help Nets hold off pesky 76ers
Maybe they were scared of getting embarrassed in front of Mr. and Mrs. Carter or suddenly got the jitters when they saw Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, plop down courtside next to Jay Z and Beyoncé.
Whatever the case, the Nets found themselves in an unexpected dogfight, unable to completely take the will and spirit of the 76ers. But unlike the way things have gone for them lately, they came up -- albeit barely -- with just enough big plays down the stretch, much to the delight of the 16,727 who braved the snow-covered, slushy streets to make it to Barclays Center.
Using their 18th different starting lineup Monday night, as Joe Johnson had to sit out with right knee tendinitis, the Nets needed a solid fourth quarter to avert a potentially disastrous loss. Paul Pierce sank a pair of free throws with 12.1 seconds left as the Nets slipped past Philadelphia, 108-102.
"A win is a win, but you can't be happy with the way we closed the game," Pierce said. "We gave up layups, threes. You know we was up 19 points and let them back in the game a couple of times. So if we play like that Thursday, we can't expect to walk away with a win."
Pierce had 25 points to go with three rebounds and two assists for the Nets (21-25), who ended their losing streak at three games, forced a season-high 25 turnovers and cashed them into 30 points. They also had 15 steals, but this wasn't exactly a signature victory. This was more of a squeaker.
"There's a lot you can learn from today," Pierce said. "We learned something: Just when you have a team on its back, you have to put them away when you can."
Two days after saying his confidence was low and that he was putting too much pressure on himself, Deron Williams had his best game in a while with 21 points and six assists. Mirza Teletovic added 20 points off the Nets' shorthanded bench, which was without the injured Andray Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko.
Nursing a six-point halftime lead, the Nets took a 19-point third-quarter lead, only to need a strong fourth to hold off Philadelphia (15-34).
The 76ers got as close as two points late in the quarter, but Williams swished an 18-foot pull-up jumper with 3:21 left and Kevin Garnett swatted Michael Carter-Williams' shot 18 seconds later, igniting a fast break. Williams found a streaking Teletovic and Teletovic laid it in as he got fouled by Lavoy Allen, leading to an old-school three-point play that gave the Nets a 102-95 lead and some breathing room.
James Anderson's corner three with 22.7 seconds left whittled Philadelphia's deficit to 104-102, so Pierce needed to hit those key free throws.
"We consider ourselves a veteran team and we think we're a good team," Shaun Livingston said. "So good teams, they close out games. They don't make mental mistakes down the end and they execute. We executed offensively, but defensively, we messed up some coverages. They got a lot of paint points. That wasn't the game plan.
"We knew that they didn't take a lot of jump shots and we didn't make them do that. So that's something that we've got to get better at."
Pierce thinks that also goes for the Nets' reserves, not just the starters out on the floor at the end of the game. It's all about sustaining momentum and he believes they didn't do that when they coughed up a 19-point first-half advantage.
"Our bench has to play better," Pierce said. "Even though we were shorthanded tonight, that means increased roles for a lot of different people. I think that was a big difference right there. I thought the starters came out and did a good job and once we substituted, the bench has to be ready to sustain a lead or push it. We can't give up big leads like that."