EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - -- Deron Williams was befuddled, unable to explain the cause for the Nets' fourth-quarter demises these last three games.
"I don't know," Williams said Tuesday. "We just haven't figured it out. We haven't gotten stops sometimes. We haven't hit free throws at times. Those things definitely come back and bite you. We need to start making plays on both ends of the floor. That'll help negate the woes."
Call it Woe, Canada.
As they settle in for a pivotal Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series with the Raptors Wednesday night, that's one area the Nets have to correct quickly if they want to fend off Toronto and put themselves in position to advance to the conference semifinals against the two-time defending champion Heat.
The Nets' fourth-quarter play has mimicked the weather patterns hovering around the tri-state area these last few weeks. It's been up and down, causing some maddeningly agitating moments. But weather patterns can't be altered. At least the Nets have a chance to make amends and rectify an issue that's plagued them since Paul Pierce's heroics in the series opener.
Other than Pierce putting the team on his back by going on a personal 9-0 run to power them to that Game 1 win, the Nets have shrunk in the glaring late-game spotlight against Toronto. Two free throws apiece by Pierce and Joe Johnson at the end of Game 3 spared them from what would've been an embarrassing collapse given they were up by 15 points in the fourth.
An alarming trend, no doubt for a team loaded with enough supposed playoff experience -- and championship pedigree in Pierce and Kevin Garnett's case -- to trump the young, upstart Raptors.
"We have to be better in the fourth. We've got to stay together and know what we're trying to do as far as our shots, and picking and choosing our spots and playing off each other," Shaun Livingston said, before adding about Joe Johnson: "We can't be running into Joe's way as far as when he's trying to get a good shot or if he has a double-team. We have to give him an outlet. We have to help him out. He helps us out, but we have to help him out."
No one did much of anything from the Nets' perspective in Game 4, certainly not offensively. In clanking their last six shots, going without a field goal for the final 6:12 and failing to score in the final 4:58, they managed just 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Overall, the Raptors have outscored the Nets 115-91 in the fourth quarter, even posting 32- and 36-point showings.
"Well, we know that they are a tough team," Pierce said. "They are not an easy team to beat. That's the way they've been all year long. They've been resilient, so it's going to come down to execution, it's going to come down to the little things in the last quarter, where one play can make or break a game. So we've got to be cautious of our turnovers, we've got to do better at the free-throw line and we've got to be able to execute."
Following that checklist with the game on the line would surely do wonders to bring the Nets out of their fourth-quarter doldrums.
"Believe me, if we had that thing that you put in a bottle to shut it down, we would have used it already and used it more often," Garnett said. "We are playing a very good team, and we respect them, and we've got to figure out ways to close better in that second half."
Notes & quotes: Alan Anderson (sore groin) didn't practice, but Nets coach Jason Kidd said he expects him to play . . . After initially announcing on Monday that Game 5 would tip off at 8 p.m., the NBA Tuesday adjusted the time to a 7:30 start instead.