Paul Pierce and Brook Lopez of the Nets look on...

Paul Pierce and Brook Lopez of the Nets look on late in a game against the Washington Wizards at Barclays Center. (Dec. 18, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

They had their All-Star center back.

They were riding the emotional wave of Joe Johnson's incredible shooting display some 48 hours earlier and were once again at home, where they had won their previous three games.

They even had a vintage performance from Paul Pierce, who, for the first time in ages, looked like that guy who wore Celtics' green for all those years.

Too bad none of that was good enough to inspire a real, all-around effort.

Struggling defensively from the outset Wednesday night, the Nets almost dug their way out of a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit but couldn't make enough plays on either side of the ball down the stretch, succumbing to the Wizards, 113-107, at Barclays Center.

Thanks to their atrocious defensive display and a lackluster night on the glass, the Nets (9-16) wasted Pierce's season-high 27 points in 35:28 in his fifth straight game off the bench. The Nets were outrebounded 51-31 and yielded a whopping 19 offensive rebounds, numbers that just won't cut it even if they shot 52.7 percent from the floor compared to a 43.2-percent showing by the Wizards (11-13).

The Nets were slow in their rotations, leaving Washington's perimeter threats consistently wide open. Those gaffes, paired with their problems on the glass, were enough to doom them.

"We scored enough points to win," Nets coach Jason Kidd said. "There were some rebounds that we couldn't come up with down the stretch. We are getting better, but we just lost a game that we felt we could control."

Pierce made 10 of 12 shots, including 3 of 5 from three-point range. He also had six rebounds and three assists, looking as comfortable as he has all season.

"It's easy to sit here and talk to you guys about what kind of night I had," Pierce said. "But bottom line, I really don't care. We lost the game. That's pretty much all that matters. We come out here and try to win as a team. It's not about how good Paul Pierce is playing. Tonight, we had the inability to rebound. We didn't defend the three and it cost us the game. And that's all I'm worried about."

Brook Lopez, playing after missing the previous two games with a sprained left ankle, had 22 points and nine rebounds. However, only four of those points came after halftime and Lopez's interior presence was nonexistent.

"I personally didn't do a great job of boxing the bigs out," Lopez said. "[Marcin] Gortat got a lot of back taps. Obviously, it won the game for them. It was all on me. The effort wasn't there."

Even so, the Nets were right there at the tail end of the fourth. Deron Williams' jumper with 1:57 left cut it to 101-100. But on Washington's ensuing possession, Gortat was all alone under the basket after seemingly taking two hands and casting Garnett aside, and with Garnett sliding on his backside on the floor, Gortat had an easy putback for a 103-100 advantage. That was basically the ballgame.

"When you are tied up, things are happening so fast," Garnett said. "That type of night. But he was there, there was no call and the play went on."

So the Nets were left to lament another grueling defeat, disappointed they couldn't sustain their recent success.

“It’s tough losing at home, period,” Pierce said. “You want to try to establish something at home, try to gather some momentum here, especially going into the holidays, because after the holidays we have a good road trip. We were trying to get some momentum. So this is a tough loss for us. This is a team we feel like we should have beat, but unfortunately they’ve beaten us twice. They have been two close games and we’ll figure this thing out.”

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