Paul Pierce stood and clapped as he faced the fans behind the bench moments before the fourth quarter commenced, trying to pump up a somewhat sleepy crowd.
With no Deron Williams because of right patella tendinitis -- which thrust Jorge Gutierrez into his first career start -- Shaun Livingston sitting out for a second straight game with a sore big toe and Alan Anderson a late scratch because of a sore abdominal muscle that bothered him in warm-ups, the Nets were lacking some juice in their matchup with the Hawks.
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So Pierce put on his virtual pom-pons with hopes of injecting some life into Barclays Center, the place where the Nets had rattled off a franchise-record 15 straight wins and the venue where he'd scored his 25,000th point minutes earlier.
Pierce's gestures may have sparked the 17,732 fans into a frenzy, but there wasn't much to cheer about when the final buzzer sounded. The Nets (43-36) couldn't get it done in the fourth quarter Friday night, failing to nail a big shot or get a big defensive stop in a 93-88 loss to the Hawks.
A floater in the lane by Jeff Teague, who outplayed his brother Marquis Teague all night, with 19.3 seconds left gave the Hawks (36-43) a five-point edge. That essentially put the icing on Atlanta's streak-busting victory, which dampened Pierce's accomplishment and dimmed the Knicks' flickering playoff hopes. The Hawks' magic number for eliminating the Knicks is one.
In scoring 13 points, Pierce became only the fourth active player and the 18th in NBA history to reach 25,000 points.
"It just shows the longevity," Pierce said, "staying healthy, being in the right situation and being pretty good."
Still, he'll lament the four free throws he clanked.
"We're trying to win every game," said Pierce, who shot 5-for-14. "I think we really kicked ourselves tonight. I think this game was really about what we did. We didn't execute properly, missed boxouts and, more importantly, free throws. A lot of these playoff games, they are going to come down to free throws. It's going to be a lot of close games and we've got to do a better job, especially me."
"I'm an 83 percent shooter on the year. I missed four free throws tonight and that's very uncharacteristic. I don't know, maybe it was the lack of focus from the 25,000. I really can't put my finger on it. But my daughter's birthday party was here [Friday night]. There was so much going on, but we've got to be better in those situations."
Pierce elevated himself into rare company in the second quarter, etching his name into the record books and joining Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki as the lone active players to net 25,000 points.
He caught a pass from Marcus Thornton along the left side, rose up seconds after misfiring on a three-pointer and let it from beyond the arc again.
"I told him, 'Welcome to the neighborhood, man.' Congratulated him," said Garnett, who had another nice outing with four points and 10 rebounds as he works himself into form. “'Truth' has been a big part of this league. It’s kind of dope to see your great friend, best friends reach some accomplishments together. We’ve done some things together. Tonight was all about him. I’m proud of him, happy for him.”
Garnett didn’t exactly show Pierce the secret handshake, but Pierce would rather use the one that gains him entry into the imaginary room for those who’ve won NBA titles anyway.
“It’s better to be in the championship club obviously than statistical things that come and go,” Pierce said. “There’s going to be players in the future that pass me up, but when you win, that lasts forever. It’s great. I’m going to enjoy it, being a part of history. It’s just a testament to my hard work, and consistency over the years and good health.”
But not even Pierce’s career milestone was enough to kick the Nets’ offense into a high enough gear. They shot 42.5 percent from the floor and made only 6 of 22 attempts from beyond the arc, numbers that weren’t good enough for the Nets, who’re basically locked into the fifth seed, to get it done against the determined Hawks still looking to seal their postseason ticket.
“We want to get better,” Pierce said. “We are playing for not today. We are playing for the playoffs and these games are preparation for those moments, running the plays, executing out of timeouts, helping one another. The little things that are going to win games for us down the line in the playoffs.”