These are simple times for the Nets. Want to make the playoffs, boys? Win. Fight, scratch, claw and do whatever you have to, but just win the game.
Going up against the Raptors Friday night, the Nets did all of that, leaning on the herculean efforts of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young to somehow muscle their way past Toronto, 114-109, before a charged-up Barclays Center crowd.
Williams had 31 points and 11 assists, Lopez had 30 points and 17 rebounds, and Young had 29 points, including the game-winning basket with 22.2 seconds left, as the Nets won their sixth straight and moved a full game ahead of idle Miami to continue their hold on seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
With Boston's loss to Milwaukee, the ninth-place Celtics are a half-game behind the Heat.
The game was tied at 109 after DeMar DeRozan (27 points) hit a jumper with 36.9 seconds left. On the next possession, Williams drove and missed and Lopez followed his shot and missed before Young rebounded and laid the ball in to put the Nets ahead. DeRozan missed at the other end and Young grabbed the rebound. Joe Johnson closed out the game by hitting three free throws.
Toronto's point guard Kyle Lowry missed his fifth straight game with what the Raptors describe as back spasms, and Amir Johnson left in the second half with a sprained right ankle.
The Raptors, who entered with a three-game winning streak, took control in the second quarter, which Nets coach Lionel Hollins admitted before the game has been the Nets' Achilles' heel.
"It's been something that's been a problem all year," he said, adding that part of the reason he took Williams and Lopez out of the starting lineup at one point was to try and address that. "Since the All-Star Game, the bench had played better, but lately they just haven't been able to score, nor defend on the level that we need to be successful."
Friday night was no exception. Up 34-27 after Toronto's Patrick Patterson hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter, the Nets were outscored 27-15 in the second period to trail at halftime 54-49.
But Williams nearly single-handedly got the Nets back in it in the third quarter after he got upset over a non-call. Williams had driven to the rim, thought he was fouled, and got no call with 7:24 left in the quarter. On the next trip down, the point guard was chirping at the referee, but suddenly pushed off a defender, caught a pass and buried a three to get himself and the Nets started. That made the score 64-58, Toronto, and from that point, Williams scored 10 points over the next 1 minute, 29 seconds. By the time the quarter was over, Williams had 13 points and five assists in the period, and the Nets were down just two, 79-77.
With the way Williams and Lopez played in the third quarter, Hollins decided not to take them out at all in the second half. Before the game, Hollins had also said that he was forced to play his starters more than he wanted to in Wednesday's two-point win over the Knicks, but "you do what you have to do."
With the Nets playing again Saturday night in Atlanta against the Hawks, he probably didn't want to play Williams, Lopez and Young as much as he did, but he had no choice.