ATLANTA - The opportunity was right there for the Nets' $98-million man to come through in the game's biggest juncture, a moment perfectly set up by Joe Johnson's vision.
Trailing by two points in the closing seconds, and with everyone mostly focused on Johnson as boos cascaded inside Philips Arena, he looked over in the left corner and saw Deron Williams. Given Paul Pierce's verbal assault on Williams a week earlier, it had all the makings of a Hollywood screenplay -- except for the happy ending.
Williams pump faked Kent Bazemore into the air, took a few dribbles along the baseline and let it fly. But he watched his 16-footer rattle in and out with 10.9 seconds remaining, allowing the top-seeded Hawks to escape with a 96-91 win over the eighth-seeded Nets Wednesday night.
The Nets now find themselves in a 2-0 deficit in their Eastern Conference first-round series with Atlanta with things shifting to Brooklyn. Game 3 is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Barclays Center, and Williams will have to wait until then to make amends and put another inconsistent shooting display behind him. "I'm sure tonight, I'll think about it," Williams said. "Not just the shot, but the game in general. We had a lot of chances and I felt like I could've played better, but we got two more at home now and we got to get them."
The Nets stormed back from an 86-75 deficit with 6:32 remaining on the strength of a 14-4 run, shaving Atlanta's edge to one on two separate occasions in the game's final 1:55. But all anyone is going to remember is Williams' shot clanking off the rim and how he hasn't been clutch in this series.
A lighting rod for criticism lately, Williams got barbecued from the likes of Pierce, Chris Webber and Isaiah Thomas for not elevating his game, particularly in the postseason. A 1-for-7 shooting display certainly isn't going to quiet skeptics, only provide them more fuel for someone who's now 2-for-17 in the final five minutes of playoffs games with the Nets when they are trailing by five points or fewer. Williams also got lost on DeMarre Carroll's backdoor layup, which handed Atlanta a 92-89 edge with 55.8 seconds remaining, and has been thoroughly outplayed by Jeff Teague.
Through the series' first two games, Williams has nailed just 33.3 percent of his shots. However, Lionel Hollins isn't concerned.
"No, I'm not," the Nets coach said. "He had 10 rebounds, he had eight assists, he played well, he was defending. He made some hustle plays. Shooting comes and goes. People can criticize all they want, but if they are not in the game performing and doing it and going through the battle, you can't say anything."
Jarrett Jack led the Nets with 23 points off the bench. Brook Lopez had 20 points and seven rebounds, and Johnson added 19 points and nine rebounds.
Paul Millsap scored 19 points and had seven rebounds for the Hawks, who won despite canning just 38.9 percent of their shots. Once again, the Nets partially have themselves to blame for that because of their inability to take care of the ball, which ignited Atlanta's fast break.
Turning it over 16 times, leading to 19 points for the Hawks, is unacceptable and the Nets are aware of it. Just like they know they let a potential victory slip away. "It's frustrating," Johnson said. "We knew in the playoffs the game would change, it would slow down. It wouldn't be so much up-tempo and it's pretty much everything we expected, man. We just gave ourselves a chance down the stretch and that's what we wanted. We just came up short the last two games."