ATLANTA -- It was right there for the taking, dangling like a piñata.
The Nets had fought back after a sluggish start, clawing within striking distance and fraying a few nerves of the faithful clad in red T-shirts inside Philips Arena. The ball was in the hands of Joe Johnson, the guy they deem as a villain and boo whenever he touches the ball, and he had his eyes affixed squarely on Al Horford as he tried to break down the Hawks' 6-10 center.
With his team down by two points, Johnson tossed up a reverse layup and it missed with 1:45 remaining, possibly foiling the eighth-seeded Nets' true chance at upsetting the top-seeded Hawks Wednesday night. Atlanta shut the door on the Nets with a 10-2 run and secured a 107-97 victory, pushing Brooklyn to the brink of elimination.
The Hawks lead their Eastern Conference first-round series 3-2 with Game 6 coming at Barclays Center Friday. If the Nets find themselves making vacation plans soon, it will bother them that they squandered an opportunity to get out of here with their first win in five tries this season.
"I didn't want to settle because we were only down two," Johnson said. "I got to the basket and my momentum was going so fast that I just blew the layup. It was a blown play by me in a pivotal moment of the game for us to tie it up . . . I just didn't make the layup."
Considering they faltered horribly at the game's outset and fell into a 17-point hole after the first quarter, the Nets were fortunate they were even in position late to snatch it from the Hawks, who were led by DeMarre Carroll's 24 points and seven rebounds. Horford and Jeff Teague had 20 points for Atlanta, which out-rebounded the Nets 43-25.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez were scoreless in the final quarter, and Williams was a non-factor overall after his stirring 35-point effort in Game 4. He reverted back to the less aggressive version of himself, mustering just five points and going 2-for-8 from the field. Lopez's touch was off for the first time in the series and he canned 4 of 13 attempts, finishing with 15 points and three rebounds.
The Nets certainly couldn't have scratched their way back if not for the offensive fury unleashed by Alan Anderson and Jarrett Jack. Anderson scored 23 points, starting the second half in place of Bojan Bogdanovic, and Jack had 18 points and six assists off the bench.
Behind a 19-8 spurt, which included a 7-0 burst to start the fourth quarter, the Nets drew within 90-89 when Jack sank a floater in the lane, capping an impressive stretch in which he scored 12 straight points. But things unraveled once Johnson missed that reverse layup and the Nets trailing 97-95.
Horford drilled a jumper on Atlanta's ensuing possession and following a critical Jack turnover, Teague banked in a layup. Teague also hit a floater with 42.2 seconds remaining and just like that, the Nets were in a 103-95 hole they couldn't climb out of.
"Jarrett Jack did a great job of bringing us back, hitting big shot after big shot and then we just didn't make plays," Williams said. "We had a couple of turnovers, missed shots and they hit big shot after big shot. They did what they had to do to close out the game."
In turn, they moved within a win of shutting the door on the Nets' season.
"It is frustrating to lose it. To know we had it at hand again," Anderson said, "like we did the other two games here. But we've got to go home and let this game go, and get ready to try to bring it back here again. It's all up to us."