Through three quarters Wednesday night, there was no discernible difference between the Nets and visiting Miami Heat. Both teams exchanged runs, and Brooklyn put forth one of its most effective offensive outputs of the season. Come the final buzzer, however, Dwyane Wade made all the difference.
The Nets stumbled through the fourth quarter, despite cutting the Miami lead to two, and ultimately fell, 104-98. Wade turned back the clock with a virtuoso performance, scoring 28 points in 30 minutes on 13-for-17 shooting.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra made the game-plan simple for his team: give the ball to No. 3 every time down the floor.
The Nets had no answer for the player whom Jarrett Jack referred to as “a first ballot type guy.” Bojan Bogdanovic could not keep pace with him, nor could Lopez when he tried to step out and contest Wade’s patented midrange jumpers.
“It was tough,” Lopez said. “D-Wade was on; he was hitting difficult shots. You’ve got to tip your hat to him for that.”
“This is what he’s built his career on,” Spoelstra said. “To be able to attack, to read defenses, to be able to make shots. (He has) incredible touch. He had the full pie chart going tonight: pull ups, post ups, pick-and-roll attacks all the way to the rim. He even hit a three in the first half at the end of the clock. He takes things very seriously.”
Joe Johnson used to deliver that kind of reliability. The ball rarely finds his hands in crunch time, however. The rock did not make its way over to Lopez, either, as he managed just two shots in the fourth quarter after having attempted 14 in the first three. He only added two free-throw attempts in the entire game, as well.
The Nets, now sitting at 7-18, are just good enough to make most games interesting, but not clutch enough to finish them off in winning fashion. Johnson delivered perhaps the most damning assessment:
“It’s coming down the stretch, we have a tendency to second-guess ourselves,” Johnson said. “Rather than taking the shots that we’ve been taking throughout the whole game, it’s like in the fourth quarter when we get those looks, we hesitate. I don’t know why.”
Thaddeus Young attributed the lack of fourth quarter success to “shots not falling.” He also added that “we ran our stuff, we executed, we did what we were supposed to, but we just couldn’t make it.”
The Nets’ inability to close games goes beyond bad luck, though. Johnson nailed the reason. With the losses accumulating, Brooklyn is hesitant down the stretch. On Wednesday, Hassan Whiteside crowded Lopez, and Miami threw the occasional double-team at him. The Nets were then forced into shooting what amounted to passive, contested midrange jumpers.
Wade picked his spots in quite the opposite manner.
“I have to understand that I’m turning 34. I understand that the game is different for me,” Wade said. “I understand that I’m playing 30 minutes a game and that the team doesn’t need it every night. But I am sure that I have a high usage rate. I am getting opportunities.”
When the Nets came to Brooklyn, everyone knew Joe was the guy. It didn’t matter that the other team knew, too. His penchant for executing–much like Wade did–came with a certain swagger and assertiveness that has evidently abandoned him. In his 15th season, the miles are no doubt catching up to him, but there should be enough tread on the tires to muster up a jumper.
Johnson does not resemble the player once nicknamed “Joe Jesus” by former teammate Kevin Garnett, citing Johnson’s ability to always be there when you need him. All he offered following the loss to Miami was “I really don’t know what happened,” and “I don’t even remember, honestly.”
The entire team is out of answers through the quarter point of the season. One thing is clear, though: Dwyane Wade is not walking through that door, and sadly for the Nets, it does not appear that Joe Jesus is, either.