The Nets have little experience trying to hang on to huge fourth-quarter leads this season. So maybe it should come as no surprise they blew an 18-point lead and scored only 17 points while giving up 38 in the final period of a 109-106 loss to the Heat Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
Any illusion the Nets were in control after building an 89-71 third-quarter lead was dispelled when the Heat opened the final period on a 33-12 run, taking a one-point lead on a corner three by former Net Willie Reed with 58.6 seconds left and pushing it to 104-101 on a pair of foul shots by Okaro White moments later.
Trevor Booker made a layup to get the Nets within one, but they couldn’t get the stop they needed in the final seconds as Dion Waiters hit the clinching three-pointer from the top of the arc as the shot clock expired with 6.8 seconds left on the game clock.
It was the 14th loss in the past 15 games for the Nets (9-36).
Waiters topped the Heat (16-30) with 24 points and had eight assists, and Goran Dragic had 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Brook Lopez led the Nets with 33 points, including a career-high seven three-pointers, but scored only two in the final period, and Bojan Bogdanovic contributed 17.
Describing the Nets’ problems on offense at the end, coach Kenny Atkinson said, “We didn’t execute, and we started playing iso ball. Sometimes, we stop playing to get Brook the ball, and we go overboard. We need to do a better job finding the right balance. We weren’t getting him the ball in a good place, and then, he feels he’s got to do it (take over).”
Miami came in riding an improbable four-game winning streak that included victories over powerhouses Houston and Golden State. In his previous two games, Waiters equaled his career high with 33-point performances.
Sure enough, Waiters had the first basket of the game and scored eight first-quarter points. But he was far from the hottest hand in the house. That belonged to Lopez, who scored 16 of the Nets’ first 17 points, including a trio of three-pointers, but a 10-2 Heat run gave Miami a 10-point lead early in the second period.
Playing with renewed energy following a lackluster loss to the Spurs, the Nets responded with an extended 31-11 run to end the half with a 66-55 lead. Lopez and Bogdanovic each had 10 points during that span, and Lopez finished the half with 26 points.
When the Nets came out aggressively to score the first six points of the third for a 72-55 lead, it looked like shades of their win Friday in New Orleans, where they scored a season-high 143 points.
The Nets faced a key moment when the Heat cut the deficit to 10, but responded with a 12-4 run to maintain an 89-71 third-quarter lead. That surge began when rookie Caris LeVert made an ankle-breaking crossover move that put Wayne Ellington on his rear end and then hit a step-back three. Quincy Acy added seven straight points before LeVert hit a driving layup at the buzzer ending the period.
As it turned out, that surge only stopped the bleeding temporarily as the Heat took control in the fourth, shooting 70 percent from the field with Waiters scoring 14.
“He started getting to the rim and started breaking us down,” Atkinson said.
The Nets had no answers at the end. Asked about the shift to more isolation plays by the Nets, Lopez said, “As the leader, I’ve got to do a better job of keeping us in the flow in our offense. We all got away from what we’ve been doing and got on our heels a little bit.”