MIAMI - The guy who previously had saved them so many times, the same one who sparked collective groans among the sellout crowd of 19,615 at AmericanAirlines Arena every time he lined up a shot in his 34-point night, had one final chance to really be a hero.
Even though the late-game problems had showed up yet again, and they had coughed up a nine-point lead, Joe Johnson could've rescued the Nets and kept their season afloat like one of those multi-million dollar yachts floating in nearby Biscayne Bay.
Johnson looked for room after receiving the inbounds pass from Shaun Livingston with 4.4 seconds remaining. He dribbled a few steps to his right before the ball got poked away by Ray Allen and he lost it. Season over. In bitter fashion, too.
"Disappointed," Deron Williams said after the Nets had a heartbreaking 96-94 loss to the Heat Wednesday night and lost their Eastern Conference semifinal series, 4-1.
"Worked hard in the offseason, all season long, now it's over," said Williams, who had 17 points. "So it's definitely tough to swallow right now."
The team constructed specifically to dethrone the Heat with a league-record payroll and luxury-tax payments that put the total cost of its roster in the $200- million neighborhood is officially eliminated. LeBron James ran to the broadcast table and jumped on top of it, raising both hands in celebration.
James has gotten past old nemesis Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett once more, taking advantage of the Nets' sloppy late-game play. Though they were in control for most of the second half and led by eight with 5:56 remaining, the Nets did themselves in with miscues. They nearly threw the ball away twice on the final possession, but luckily for them video replay confirmed the ball went out of bounds off the Heat.
James scored 29 points with nine rebounds and Dwyane Wade had 28 points. Allen finished with 13.
"Just too many breakdowns defensively," Pierce said. "When you're playing in close games on the road you have not a lot of room for error. It's always a game of inches. We just came up short on a game of inches. We played as hard as we could but sometimes we didn't play smart. That's the way the ball bounces sometimes."
Pierce's ex-Celtics teammate came up big, though. Not only did Allen knock the ball away from Johnson on that final play, he also rattled in a corner three-pointer with 32 seconds left. Allen's backbreaking shot handed the Heat a 93-91 edge, forcing Johnson to throw his hands up in disgust. Call it the remix from two nights earlier.
"It seemed like it was a vivid moment of Game 4," Johnson said. "Same thing, top of the key, pick-and-roll, two guys go to one, leave a guy. Then I went rotation, so I don't know how we left Ray. We left him wide open. I tried to contest, but he obviously made the shot."
Allen's dagger helped vault the Heat to the conference semifinals for the fourth straight season and sent the Nets home stinging from a second-round exit. Still, Pierce (19 points) isn't ready to call the Nets' season of great expectations a colossal failure.
"We came up short on our goal, so most times when you [reach] for high goals and fail at it you look at it as a steppingstone to get better, to learn from it," Pierce said. "So although we didn't accomplish our goals you have to learn from it and see coming in next year whether I'll be here or the guys coming here they have to understand this is the precedent that we set, and so going forward next year for the organization making the first round last year, making the second round I think the organization is headed in the right direction."