TORONTO -- No way the Nets were supposed to even be in it, not with the display that was prevalent for the better part of the first three quarters, when they found themselves staring at a 26-point deficit.
On the road.
In a playoff game.
With a sellout crowd of 20,393 bellowing cheers in college-like atmosphere.
As Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce sat on the bench.
So imagine all the nervous faces doting the Air Canada Centre as the Nets were making a late charge like a fast thoroughbred closing in on a finish line, erasing their huge hole and squaring it with 1:23 left. But Kyle Lowry stepped up with a pair of big shots in the closing moments.
In the end, the Nets just didn't have enough gas left in the tank to motor by the Raptors and now they're on the brink of elimination after a 115-113 loss in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series Wednesday night.
Fueled by a furious 44-point fourth quarter, the Nets nearly pulled off a wild comeback behind the sharpshooting of Joe Johnson, who exploded for 26 of his 30 points in the second half.
With Toronto holding a 3-2 series edge, Game 6 at the Barclays Center tomorrow has transformed into a must-win scenario for the high-priced Nets. Supposedly built for a deep run with the addition of a pair of champions in Garnett and Pierce, the Nets now find themselves on the cusp of a premature first-round exit that surely wouldn't be the kind of return Mikhail Prokhorov was anticipating when he gave his blessings on a nearly $200-million price tag that included payroll and luxury tax.
"We just have to play with a sense of urgency," said Deron Williams, one of the main culprits who got off to a sluggish start. "We have to [win] now. If we lose, we're done, so we have to go back and protect home court and definitely put forth a better effort on the defensive end, and if we do that, we'll turn that into easy offense."
Johnson found plenty of easy offense in the second half. He almost single-handedly brought the Nets back from the depths. But not even his offensive fireworks were good enough to propel the Nets to what would've been an incredible, instant-classic status win.
Despite their lack of aggression early, a maddening problem that's still unbelievably an issue with this team, they were one play away from stealing this one in backbreaking fashion. With the Raptors leading by two and just 4.9 seconds left, Andray Blatche clanked the second of two free throws and Shaun Livingston fought to keep the ball alive. Livingston's take on what happened to him on that play. "A foul," he said.
Still, the ball somehow made its way to Blatche by the baseline, who tried to fire a quick pass to Williams. Instead, it sailed into the backcourt as if was on a hot-air balloon and the Nets' furious rally fell short.
"I was trying to make the free throw," Blatche said. "I missed and Shaun made a great play, and I tried to make a great play to D-Will so he can make the three and we can go home."
One more loss in this series and they'll be going home for good rather than heading to South Beach next week for a date in the conference semifinals with the two-time defending champion Heat. Still, even though they've yet to win consecutive games in this series, the Nets seem convinced they can take these next two and advance.
"Without a doubt," Pierce said. "We've got to take care of home. I think we will be better on Friday at home and we'll see them on Sunday."