Down by 18 points in the fourth quarter and struggling to find any semblance of offensive rhythm, the Nets looked like easy targets for the Clippers’ high-intensity attack.
They had to find a way to stop them. They had to find a way back. They had to Hack-a-Shaq.
The Nets effectively choked the Clippers’ offense, sending the free throw-challenged DeAndre Jordan to the line twice in the fourth quarter (and Blake Griffin once, by accident). And they came close to an improbable comeback before falling, 105-100, at Barclays Center.
The Nets drew to within two three times in the final 4:02 and moved within 97-95 when Andrea Bargnani hit two free throws with 1:35 left. But Chris Paul followed that with a floater in the lane and Griffin sank a jumper seconds later to withstand the Nets’ comeback.
The Nets outscored the Clippers 37-28 in the fourth quarter, led by Bargnani, who scored all 11 of his points in the period. Griffin and J.J. Redick led all scorers with 21.
“It’s not something that I would do in the beginning of the game, or through the course of the game,” Lionel Hollins said of the strategy, made famous by teams that intentionally fouled Shaquille O’Neal. “But it was appropriate at the time and we did it and it brought us back. We were struggling offensively to get some flow.”
Jordan entered the game shooting 38.9 percent from the free-throw line. The Nets tried to send him to the line three times in the fourth quarter, but a miscommunication led to a personal foul on Griffin with 5:17 left.
No matter: Griffin made one of two to give the Clippers a 12-point lead, but Joe Johnson followed with a three-pointer. The Nets got Jordan the next two times, and he went 1-for-4 as the Nets chipped away. Bargnani’s three-pointer and jumper off Jordan’s missed foul shots drew the Nets to within 93-88.
“The strategy worked well for us and allowed us to get those stops that we were desperately looking for in the fourth quarter,” Jarrett Jack said. “But you’ve got to give them some credit. They knocked down some tough shots.”
It never looked as if it would be that close. Paul Pierce’s driving layup with 10:34 left gave the Clippers an 18-point lead in a game in which Los Angeles led for all but the first four minutes.
Jordan was a menace under the basket, slamming home three dunks in the first quarter, including a one-handed putback on Redick’s three-point attempt to give the Clippers a seven-point advantage. They led 28-20 going into the second quarter.
Pierce hit back-to-back threes to give the Clippers a 42-26 advantage with 6:53 left in the first half, their biggest lead to that point. Frustration eventually got the best of the Nets as time ticked down to the break. With about two minutes left, Thaddeus Young shoved Redick to the floor and exchanged heated words with Jordan at midcourt, leading to a flagrant foul on Young and a technical on Jordan. Redick followed that up by scoring seven points in the span of a minute, leading the Clippers to a 57-44 halftime lead.
It looked like it would be enough for the Clippers, but the “guys were just feeling it” in the fourth quarter, Young said. “You get into that type of situation and the opposing team doesn’t call a timeout and it just keeps flowing and flowing and breaks up their momentum.”
It almost worked, too.