LeBron James makes Game 4 his dominant performance
This was the performance Nets fans had feared, even if the Nets themselves insisted they did not.
LeBron James pulled a LeBron James on Monday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal after two days of hearing about how unintimidated the Nets were by James and the rest of the two-time defending NBA champs.
It didn't take long for him to make his point at the expense of his old sparring partner, Paul Pierce, the leader of the "we are not afraid" brigade.
There was 3:04 left in the second quarter when he threw down a forceful dunk to complete a fast break, then dramatically and emphatically stared down Pierce.
That was but one highlight among many on a night when James finished with 49 points, shooting 16-for-24 from the field and 14-for-19 from the line and adding six rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Only a missed free throw with 1.1 seconds left kept him from an even 50 -- which he admitted frustrated him -- but it was enough for the Heat to survive a valiant fourth quarter from the Nets and win, 102-96, to take a 3-1 series lead.
So now the Nets must win three in a row, two in Miami, to reach the conference finals.
The odds of that happening are as long as owner Mikhail Prokhorov's face was as he left Barclays Center wearing Nets sweats and a grim expression.
This was not what Prokhorov bargained for when he authorized the most expensive roster in NBA history. But if this was the Nets' final home game of 2013-14, at least they showed grit in entertaining a rollicking Barclays crowd by battling the Heat almost to the finish.
Then it all went horribly wrong. Twice Joe Johnson missed shots while being defended closely by James, who had five personal fouls at the time.
Nets coach Jason Kidd and Johnson both said the goal was not specifically to foul out James. But Johnson did say he thought James "flopped" on the second miss. He said James' alleged flop distracted him.
"I should have known they weren't going to call a foul, but I went into my shot anyway," he said.
James later said he does not believe there is a player alive he can't defend one-on-one, foul trouble or no foul trouble.
In between Johnson's misses, James got what coach Erik Spoelstra called a "hockey assist" on the biggest basket of the game, a corner three-pointer by Chris Bosh that broke a 94-94 tie with 57.3 seconds left.
James found the Nets' Kevin Garnett in his way, so he swung the ball to Mario Chalmers, who hit Bosh.
It was that kind of night for the Nets, who could not solve James and allowed him far too much access to the paint after shutting it off for most of Game 3.
There were too many James moments to list here, but he had made his mark by halftime, including a tough turnaround jump shot while being guarded closely by Alan Anderson and an even tougher fadeaway jumper against Pierce's defense. It seemed every Net this side of Billy Paultz took a crack at defending him.
The King even found time during the second quarter to chat up pals Jay Z and Beyoncé, who arrived fashionably late to their courtside seats.
Still, the Nets found ways to make it interesting, just not quite interesting as it needed to be to make this a long series, barring a shocking turn of events.
James had his moments in the first three games, including a 16-point first quarter in Game 3, but the Nets and their fans had to know he could come up with a signature, dominant game at any time.
That time was Monday night.
Mike D of the Beastie Boys introduced the Nets' starting lineup while the sound system played the group's long-ago hit, "No Sleep Till Brooklyn."
A couple of hours later, James had put the Nets one loss away from a long summer snooze.