Deron Williams was at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter when Kevin Garnett brought everyone together and made sure the mission was crystal-clear: Stomp on the opponent's neck at the end of the game for once.
"I just wanted to re-emphasize some of the things that we wanted to carry over from practice," Garnett said, "some small words of encouragement."
Holding off hard-charging opponents at the end of games has been a major issue for the Nets and they've had more than their share of struggles while trying to put the finishing touches on a win throughout the season's first month. But in their true trademark cardiac fashion, they found a way to finally get it done against the Knicks Tuesday night, making all the necessary plays in crunchtime to pull out a 98-93 victory at the Garden.
Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez all had huge plays in the waning moments and the trio totaled 59 points. Lopez poured in 23 points to go with eight rebounds and three blocks, Johnson scored 17 of his 20 in the second half and Williams had 19 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Nets (7-9), who were up by as many as 16 points after halftime before the Knicks' fourth-quarter spurt. "It was a good win for us," Williams said. " . . . We kept making runs and going back and forth so we did close it out, but we would've liked to have more cushion."
Although the Knicks drew within 91-88 with 2:25 remaining, the Nets never panicked and their offense didn't betray them. They rattled off a mini 6-0 spurt to run their advantage back to double digits, and despite the Knicks shaving the Nets' lead to three with 41 seconds left, Williams drained a big three-pointer with 1:42 to play and Johnson sank two free throws with 45.7 seconds remaining for a 96-91 edge.
Johnson swished another pair of free throws with 4.5 seconds left after Carmelo Anthony's potential game-tying three-pointer over Alan Anderson bounced off the back of the rim, giving the Nets a third win in their last 10 games. "I thought we ran our offensive sets with pace and played with some enthusiasm, especially down the stretch," Johnson said. "For whatever reason, we'd be up 10 or 15 coming into the fourth and it's like some way, somehow we make it a tough game. We shouldn't be doing [that]. We got to learn how to put teams away."
It's just the latest teaching tool in a season full of them so far for the Nets. "Yeah, we've had some games this year where we could have closed out earlier," Williams said. "Even games we lost when we were up 12, 14 points, and we can"t extend the lead, and then they come back and it haunts us. So we've got to figure out a way to do that."