Kevin Garnett #2, Joe Johnson #7, Shaun Livingston #14 and...

Kevin Garnett #2, Joe Johnson #7, Shaun Livingston #14 and Deron Williams #8 look on late in Game 4 of their second round playoff series against the Miami Heat at Barclays Center on Monday, May 12, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The frantic final minutes probably replayed in their heads all throughout the night, from the moment they peeled their sweaty uniforms off until the time they laid their heads on a pillow and shut their eyes.

Rushed shots.

Sloppy possessions.

By shrinking in those precious, tense moments when the outcome was in doubt, the Nets pushed themselves to the brink. The team with the league-record payroll is on the cusp of elimination, close to seeing a season that began with championship expectations end with a second-round exit.

If they can't once again correct that flaw, and solve the maddening mystery that leads to these bitter fourth-quarter finishes, the Nets' chances of storming back to take down the two-time defending champs surely dips to microscopic levels.

"We just didn't do a good job of executing down the stretch," Deron Williams said after the Nets fell into a 3-1 series deficit, making Wednesday night's Game 5 in Miami a must-win. "We had some good looks, but I think we can get some better ones. I think we used a lot of the shot clock up when we should have went a lot earlier. I think that's where we had success early in the game, was when we were pushing the tempo a little bit."

Missing seven of eight shots in the final 2:02 was tough enough to stomach for the Nets. Watching Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce -- two guys who have won a championship -- fail to come through and Joe Johnson, their go-to guy in the clutch, get flustered and forced into uncomfortable shots surely had to be difficult on their psyche.

Garnett badly misfired a hurried 17-footer that could have put the Nets ahead with two minutes left. Johnson's runner after bouncing off what he believed was a flopping LeBron James was way off target, a panicky attempt with 40 seconds remaining and the Nets down by three. Pierce's three-pointer, coming out of a timeout with the Nets behind by five and desperately needing a quick score, hit nothing but glass.

"Just stagnant. Stagnant," Shaun Livingston said of the Nets' last-minute offense.

Such late-game issues are nothing new for the Nets. Fourth-quarter struggles have doomed them many times in the postseason and against the Heat the numbers are even more pronounced. In the first four games of the series, the Nets are shooting 39.4 percent in the fourth quarter, 26.1 percent from three-point range and 64.5 percent from the foul line.

It's all under an umbrella of untimely ineptitude.

"We've just got to be patient. We've got to stay disciplined," Nets coach Jason Kidd said Tuesday on a conference call. "Sometimes you can get a wide-open shot in basketball and it can be cruel. You've made these shots for the first three quarters and you miss going into the fourth.

"So we've got to continue to be patient, and stay disciplined, and keep our trust. That's who we have been and I don't see that changing."

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