It had all the makings of one of those games in which things were lined up in their favor, even if they were squaring off against the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Matching up against the short-handed Hawks, who clobbered them in their first three meetings -- including a 32-point win four days earlier -- was supposed to feel different Wednesday night. Atlanta could've been distracted, knowing they were without the services of Thabo Sefolosha and Pero Antic after the two were arrested early in the morning following an incident at a Manhattan nightclub and face several misdemeanor charges, including obstructing governmental administration.
That plus no Paul Millsap, who sat out with a shoulder injury, meant the Hawks weren't close to full strength. But the Nets still had trouble containing the Hawks and were beaten, 114-111, at Barclays Center.
Joe Johnson's potential game-tying three-pointer rattled around the rim and bounced out, catapulting the Hawks to a four-game season series sweep over the Nets (36-42), who dropped to eighth place in the conference with four games left.
Brook Lopez had 26 points and 10 rebounds to pace the Nets, but got caught in a defensive switch and lost Horford underneath the basket for an uncontested dunk with 19.1 seconds remaining that put the Hawks (59-19) back up for good. Johnson finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.
Al Horford led the Hawks with 24 points and seven rebounds.
Still, the Nets had a chance to tie it after Horford's bucket. Jarrett Jack misfired on a corner three-pointer with 8.9 seconds left, but Lopez got the offensive rebound, kicking it out to Bojan Bogdanovic at the top of the key. Bogdanovic's jumper was off left and Jeff Teague got the rebound. He made a pair of free throws with 2.7 seconds left.
Johnson's floater in the lane capped a 16-3 run midway through the fourth quarter, turning a 105-93 deficit into a 109-108 edge with 3:39 left.
Deron Williams banked in a difficult runner to give the Nets a 111-110 lead with 33.5 seconds left, causing the uncharacteristically boisterous crowd to rise with glee.
Too bad Atlanta had other plans.