Still sitting at their lockers in full uniform 15 minutes after the final buzzer, creating a rare postgame sight, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett scraped themselves off their cushy chairs and trudged off into a back area in zombie-like fashion.
They weren't mumbling any choice words the way LeBron James was barking at himself minutes earlier. His free-throw attempt had clanked off the rim with a second remaining, ruining his opportunity at a 50-point night.
But Pierce and Garnett were frustrated after the Nets lost to the Heat, 102-96, in Game 4 Monday night at Barclays Center and squandered a golden opportunity to tie their Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games each. Instead, the Nets trail 3-1 as the series shifts back to Miami Wednesday night.
They were right there, tussling with the two-time defending champs until the final moments, still in it although James went berserk and fueled the Heat's offense with a buttery smooth repertoire that was unstoppable.
James was a beast with 49 points, but it was Chris Bosh who stuck a knife into the Nets' heart. Bosh sank a tiebreaking three-pointer from the corner with 57.3 seconds left, the biggest bucket of the game.
"It's very disappointing," said Joe Johnson, who led the Nets with 18 points. "We let one get away on our home floor. Not only let, but I thought the points in the paint were the biggest difference. We didn't allow that in Game 3. In Game 4, we gave up too many points, too many easy baskets. LeBron shot 19 free throws. We just didn't get it done."
James played as if possessed, nailing 16 of 24 shots and tying his career playoff high with the 49 points. He essentially was a one-man wrecking crew for Miami, scoring 40 points in the first three quarters -- more than half of the Heat's total of 79.
James was in a zone and had a laser-like focus that rose to another level whenever he was guarded by Pierce. Perhaps James had heard that Pierce had gone to Nets coach Jason Kidd on Sunday and practically begged to guard him.
Still, even with James' off-the-charts display, the Nets took a 91-89 lead on Pierce's running layup and free throw for a three-point play with 4:25 left. But James hit a three-pointer on the next possession to give the Heat a 92-91 lead.
Miami outscored the Nets 11-6 in the final four-plus minutes to take control. Bosh's bucket was the big one, set up by Mario Chalmers' assist.
"I think D-Wade slipped out," Deron Williams said, referring to Dwyane Wade, "and they hit him in the middle. It was kind of a trap in the middle, swung it over to Chalmers. I took him and Bosh was in the corner. He made a great play, great shot."
In missing three of their final four shots, the Nets just couldn't come through in the clutch.
With Miami ahead 97-94, Johnson had a good look from about 11 feet away as he backed James down. But James fell to the floor trying to draw a foul, and Johnson said it threw him off as he went up for his shot. "I wasn't necessarily trying to draw a foul on him,'' Johnson said, "but I thought he was aggressive, so I was just trying to use his aggressiveness against him. He flopped on that last one."
That's the term people may start throwing around about the Nets if they can't pull this series out, given that they're nearly a $200-million item.
"Just one," Pierce said. "We've just got to get one game. That's the mindset. The series is far from over. We've got to go down there, try to get one game and force the series back at home."