NEW ORLEANS -- P.J Carlesimo learned his lesson.
No way was he about to keep that trend going, affixing All-Star center Brook Lopez to the bench in favor of Andray Blatche as he did in three of the Nets' previous four games. He was determined not to go that route again, particularly with Lopez squaring off against his twin brother, Robin.
Good thing, too, because they needed an assist from Lopez -- along with a solid fourth-quarter showing by Deron Williams -- to help rescue the Nets from a potentially embarrassing loss.
With Joe Johnson unavailable for the third straight game as he keeps nursing a troublesome sore left heel, the Nets found a way to stave off the pesky Hornets rather than get stung, riding the coattails of Lopez and Williams. The duo totaled 17 key fourth-quarter points, propelling the Nets to a 101-97 win over the Hornets at New Orleans Arena Tuesday night.
Williams scored the Nets' final 11 points, coming up with clutch free throws in the closing minute after New Orleans kept flinging in desperation three-pointers, trying to keep the Nets (34-24) from ending a two-game slide.
"Bogs hit the big shots to kind of get us going again," Williams said, referring to Keith Bogans, who was 3-for-3 from three-point range in the fourth. "And then me and Brook did a good job of closing it out with some shots and some free throws and I wanted to step up for our team. I especially wanted to step up after how the last game went down the stretch for me personally."
That, he did. Williams, who pumped in a game-high 33 points to go along with eight assists, nailed two huge shots from the floor, dished a pair of assists and sank all six critical free-throw attempts to stave off the Hornets (20-38). "He played a great game. That's why he's an All-Star," interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "When he plays like that, we are a hard team to beat."
Lopez had 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four blocks. Still, the Nets kept doing everything they could to hand it back to New Orleans in the fourth quarter. Their offense got stagnant. They weren't hustling as much. All that did was give New Orleans, which was paced by Greivis Vasquez's 20 points, a ton of confidence.
"We should have closed the game out a little better than that," Bogans said. "We let them back in and gave them a chance."
But that's when Lopez went to work. He hit a driving layup to put the Nets up 88-82 and also swished a big pair of free throws with 1:41 remaining to give them an eight-point bulge.
"I kept my confidence through this entire week," Lopez said. " . . . I think it's good. It shows we can execute either with Dray in there or myself."
It probably never should have been that close at the end. After leading 57-41 at halftime, the Nets had another one of their disastrous third quarters, going 6-for-17 from the field, turning the ball over five times and getting outscored 24-16.
But Williams, knowing they were without their closer, came through. "It feels good," Williams said. "We definitely missed Joe out there and we hoped he would be back out tonight. We thought he was going to go until right before the game, so it was kind of a blow. I just wanted to be there for my team and try to step up when I'm needed."