Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson shoots a 3-pointer over New...

Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson shoots a 3-pointer over New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith in the second half at Madison Square Garden. (Jan. 21, 2013) Credit: AP

The Knicks returned from London on Friday, but for about 2 1/2 quarters Monday, it looked as if their sense of urgency hadn't made it through customs.

It finally appeared in the third quarter, but their execution failed them late in the fourth quarter at the Garden against the surging Nets.

They had a chance to open a three-game lead on the Nets, but the Knicks' 88-85 loss in the teams' final meeting of the regular season left them one up and tied the season series at two games each.

"Two-and-two against them stinks," Knicks guard J.R. Smith said. "Just like kissing your sister. We just got to figure out a way to win divisional games."

The Knicks, who beat the Pistons in London on Thursday, had their chances to win this game after another slow start. They were down 10 in the first half and nine in the third before taking the lead.

The Knicks (25-14) went ahead 75-72 on Smith's three-pointer with 9:07 left but scored only 10 points the rest of the way. They were 3-for-13 from the field in that time and missed three foul shots.

"We have a great crowd, great fans," Smith said. "For us to come out there and not play the way we're capable of to start the game off and always have to fight back is unacceptable. It's disrespectful to them more than anything, and for us, we should be embarrassed by it."

With the Nets leading by one, Carmelo Anthony had a good look but shot an air ball with 12 seconds left on a 10-foot baseline jumper. He finished with 29 points but took 29 shots and was 0-for-6 with two points in the fourth.

"I didn't execute," he said. "I didn't make shots down the stretch. Shots I know I can make, I normally make, I've been making down the stretch."

Smith had 16 points and nearly tied the score at the buzzer. He attempted a tough three-pointer over two Nets that hit the backboard, hit the front of the rim and bounced out.

Amar'e Stoudemire had 15 points and Jason Kidd 11 points and six steals.

Joe Johnson scored 25 points, including a pull-up jumper with 22.3 seconds left that gave the Nets (25-16) the lead for good and sent them to their 11th win in 13 games under P.J. Carlesimo.

Deron Williams had 14 points and 12 assists and made three foul shots in the final 8.3 seconds. Brook Lopez had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, one on a layup attempt by Anthony that would have put the Knicks ahead with 1:41 left. On the previous trip, Stoudemire missed a foul shot that would have tied the score at 83.

Anthony made two free throws to put the Knicks up 84-83 with 40.9 seconds to go, and the Knicks desperately needed a stop. But Johnson hit the pull-up over Smith, who said he could've played better defense.

"I didn't have a hand up, and if you don't have a hand up against an All-Star-caliber guy like Joe, it's kind of hand down, man down," Smith said.

After Anthony shot his short baseline jumper long, Iman Shumpert fouled Williams. He hit both free throws to make it 87-84 with 8.3 seconds left.

The Nets intentionally fouled Jason Kidd to prevent a three-point shot, and he made only one foul shot with 7.5 seconds to go. Kidd then fouled Williams. He also made one from the line -- snapping his streak of consecutive made free throws at 52 -- setting up the final shot by Smith that nearly banked in.

"Honestly, I thought it was going in, but I kind of altered my shot a little bit because I had three hands in my face," Smith said. "They did a good job of contesting it."

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months