WASHINGTON -- Alan Anderson huddled the others together near the free-throw line, trying to be that calming influence.
A lead that once was as large as 12 points had evaporated, the Verizon Center's third sellout crowd of the season was roaring with glee, and the body language was shifting on both sides. So Anderson delivered an edict.
"We just needed to settle down a little bit," he said. "They were making us speed up and that's an advantage for them, the way they play. So we just needed to settle down and execute the plays like we had been doing up until that point and get like three or four passes side to side, and that would calm them down a little bit."
Didn't happen. Instead, the Nets wilted in the fourth quarter. They went scoreless for 6:21, couldn't stop the explosive Wizards and dropped a 101-94 decision that had a playoff-type feel.
The Nets (33-31) failed to gain ground on the Wizards (35-31) in the Eastern Conference standings. Washington, which swept the three-game season series, actually leapfrogged the Nets and moved into fifth place, a full game in front of them.
The Nets lost for only the second time in 33 games when leading heading into the fourth quarter. Their only other loss? Also against the Wizards.
A brutal fourth quarter did them in. They misfired on 11 of 16 attempts, were outscored 29-15 and didn't manage a field goal in the final 6:21.
It wasn't exactly a strong finish for a team with big postseason aspirations.
"I tried to express that to the guys in the locker room, 'Hey, from here on out, these games are like playoff games,' " Paul Pierce said. "Like I said, every day, every week, the standings are going to be constantly changing. It could mean the difference between having a Game 7 at home or a Game 7 on the road. So we have to take these games with a better sense of urgency from here on out."
Who knows how bad things would have gotten in the fourth quarter if Marcus Thornton hadn't caught fire. Thornton shot 4-for-5 in the quarter and scored 10 of his 19 points, but the rest of the Nets shot 1-for-11.
"Coach just told us coming down the stretch that we were outscored 14-3," said Deron Williams, who finished with 14 points and seven assists but had only two points and one assist in the second half and missed all five shots. "We just looked uncomfortable on offense and defensively we didn't get a stop.
"So usually that's the time when we play our best basketball down the stretch, tighten up defensively and execute offensively. And it was the opposite tonight."
Said Pierce, "We just had a terrible offensive and defensive fourth quarter and we can't do that, especially with the playoffs looming. We've got to be more solid. We've got to be more consistent in everything we do."
John Wall punished the Nets with 33 points and Drew Gooden had a turn-back-the-clock type of game, shooting 8-for-11 and scoring 21 points -- the most he's had in almost two full years. His three-pointer with 2:37 remaining put the Wizards up for good at 97-94.
Gooden was basically out of the league until the Wizards came calling last month and offered him a 10-day contract. "You guys joke about me being old, but I'm still Drew Gooden," he said. "That's what I do."
Trevor Ariza's bucket seconds later was the true back- breaker, though. After Bradley Beal's jumper bounced off the rim, Ariza outfought the Nets for the loose ball and laid it in for a five-point edge with 44 seconds left. Wall's exclamation dunk seconds later sealed it, sending the Nets home frustrated after that big win over the Heat just three days earlier.
"Against a great team like Miami, we can sustain a whole 48 minutes of ball movement and defensive pressure and today I think we let up a bit toward the end," Anderson said. "We've got to have that mentality, man. We've got to start putting teams away. We've only got what, three weeks left in the season?
"You've got to start having that mentality -- once you have a team down, you've got to have that playoff mentality like Paul is saying and keep them down. And today we didn't do that."