This was supposed to be their night, their shot to prove to everyone that they've got some gumption, disproving the opinion of Charles Barkley and others who have questioned their killer instinct.
Instead, all the Nets did was give the naysayers more fodder after the way they went belly-up in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference first-round series with the Bulls on Saturday night.
Although the Bulls were missing starters Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, the Nets just couldn't get it done after falling behind by 17 points in the first half and dropped a numbing 99-93 season-ending decision to Chicago at Barclays Center.
"I'm surprised because we expected to win," interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "But in the first half, we didn't play with the same defensive intensity that we did in the second half and we didn't battle on the boards as well as we needed to. But as we've done many times, our guys came back and competed and put ourselves in position. We needed a shot here or there and we could have gotten back in it."
Every time the Nets made a charge, the Bulls answered it, particularly in the fourth quarter.
Deron Williams nailed a pull-up three-pointer with 6:09 left in the fourth to make it 86-81, leading a fuming Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to call a timeout. The Bulls regrouped, though, and responded. Nate Robinson canned a 17-footer and Marco Belinelli swished a killer three-pointer to push the lead back to 91-81.
The Nets cut it to 95-90 on Brook Lopez's layup but couldn't get any closer than that.
"We didn't want to go out like this," said Lopez, who had 21 points and nine rebounds.
Joe Johnson's three-pointer with 38 seconds remaining bounced off the side of the rim and Belinelli drained two free throws with 29 seconds left to essentially ice it and send the Bulls to South Beach in stunning fashion.
Despite playing with plantar fasciitis, Joakim Noah had 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots. Belinelli also had 24 points.
"It's disappointing," said Williams, who had 24 points and seven assists. "I think when we won Game 6, we felt like this was our series, and they came out and played a great game. Noah, he's a warrior. He battled through his injuries and had a monster game. We really had no answer for him down low tonight."
Johnson, who also played through injuries, had only six points and shot 2-for-14. "I just missed some shots that I normally make and we came up short,'' he said. "I don't blame anything as a reason for how I played tonight. It's definitely unfortunate, and you can put it on my back."
Feeling the urgency after a lethargic first half, the Nets got the emotional spark they desperately needed early in the third from Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace, sparking a 21-8 surge that cut Chicago's lead to four.
Evans ended up with only two points but had 13 rebounds. Wallace, who had 19 points and five assists, was all over the court, nailing back-to-back threes to bring the Nets within 67-60 and send the crowd into a frenzy. Wallace scored 11 points in the third quarter, going 4-for-8 from the floor -- including 3-for-5 from three.
Things were so bad at the end of the first half for the Nets that they heard boos from what had been a festive crowd early, one that was anticipating some history. Instead, they grew weary of the Nets getting outworked by Chicago.
Chicago pounced on loose balls, rotated quickly defensively and had the Nets frustrated and on their heels. The Bulls outrebounded the Nets 21-13 in the first half alone, snaring nine offensive rebounds to match the Nets' entire defensive total.
The Bulls also scored 32 points in the paint in the half.