This was supposed to be the team they're going to be judged against, the NBA's two-time defending champions.
When Billy King started retooling the Nets' roster over the summer, plucking Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Celtics and signing Andrei Kirilenko on the cheap, he had the Heat in mind. So with Miami in town last night after disappointing defeats by both teams, it provided the Nets a welcome opportunity to gauge themselves against one of the elite, a team that had beaten them 13 straight times.
The Nets played far from perfectly, but they finally were able to do something they hadn't done since March 20, 2009: beat the Heat.
On the strength of a strong second half, fueled by a 31-point outburst in the third quarter, they took a 16-point lead and held on for a 101-100 victory over Miami in front of a frenzied sellout crowd at Barclays Center.
"It was big," Paul Pierce said. "Because one, you're playing against the best team in the NBA, and two, we're trying to establish some home presence here. In order for us to be one of the better teams in the league, you've got to establish something at home. And tonight, we got off a good start in trying to do that."
Pierce and Joe Johnson each had 19 points for the Nets (1-1), who had their full complement of players available for the first time, including the preseason. Pierce added six assists and five rebounds.
LeBron James had 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists and Dwyane Wade added 21 points for the Heat (1-2). Chris Bosh scored 17 points.
The Nets used a 24-8 spurt at the outset of the third quarter to help turn a 47-47 tie into a 78-67 lead heading into the fourth, but they still needed a solid fourth quarter to pull it out, particularly late.
Deron Williams made one of two free throws with 17.6 seconds left to give the Nets a 97-94 edge. Alan Anderson fouled Ray Allen on the Heat's ensuing possession and Allen uncharacteristically sank only one of two free throws, bringing Miami within two.
Pierce drained a pair of free throws with seven seconds left for a 99-95 edge, but James swished a long three with 4.7 ticks remaining, keeping things interesting.
Johnson nailed two free throws with 3.7 seconds left for a 101-98 lead before Bosh sank two free throws with 3.2 seconds remaining.
"Determination," said Kevin Garnett, who had six points and seven rebounds. "I think we wanted this a little more. No disrespect to the champs and what they're trying to accomplish this year. But we knew playing at home, coming from Cleveland, that we would do better . . . I thought we played strong and played to the end, and as you saw, it was a great game."
In front of a rabid crowd, too, that made it feel like a playoff atmosphere. Garnett was taken aback by the party-like environment in his new digs.
"This place is electric," he said. "I had to stop looking in the crowd. It was a huge distraction, but it was beautiful. Obviously, I'm coming from Beantown, but big ups to Brooklyn. It's going to be a pleasure playing here."