Joe Johnson thought he had it, grimacing his teeth in disappointment.
The Nets' go-to guy at crunch time had just let the potential game-winner fly and he figured this one was going down like so many others have since he's put on a Nets uniform. As the ball sailed through the air, he had visions of his team scraping out a gritty win against one of the Western Conference's top teams in a game the Nets were without the services of Deron Williams (sore left side) and Kevin Garnett (rest).
But it clanked off the rim with a second left, giving the Mavericks new life and Dallas took supreme advantage. Dirk Nowitzki's three-pointer with 34.8 seconds left in overtime iced any thoughts of a another comeback, sending the Nets to a 96-88 loss at the Barclays Center Monday night.
"Joe made two big threes, made another bucket, next thing you know it was tied," Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. "We had a chance to win it at the end. He got a good shot."
Brook Lopez, starting at center rather than coming off the bench as he has recently with Garnett out, had a brilliant first quarter but cooled off after that. He led the Nets (16-18) with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Jarrett Jack had 20 points and 10 assists, and Johnson posted 18 points and seven rebounds.
Monta Ellis led Dallas (26-10) with 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Nowitzki had 15 points and seven rebounds, passing Moses Malone for seventh place on the league's all-time scoring list.
A numbing 3-for-25 display from three-point range and a frustrating start to the fourth quarter almost did the Nets in during regulation, foiling their chance to move to 3-13 versus teams with .500 or better records. They missed their first seven shots of the fourth, watching the Mavs seize control with a 10-0 run to open the quarter and grab an 11-point lead with 7:09 to play.
The Nets were 1-for 22 from beyond the arc until Johnson drained consecutive threes in a 55-second span to tie the score at 80 with 1:42 left.
After Jack's tough pull-up over Ellis with 26.6 seconds left, Ellis was fouled by Mason Plumlee driving to the basket and hit both free throws with 10.5 seconds left to tie it, leaving the stage set for Johnson. However, his jumper over Richard Jefferson's outstretched hands bounced off the rim, sending it to overtime.
The Nets led for the opening 30 minutes, mixing in decent offense at times but also benefiting from Dallas misfiring on a flurry of uncontested shots. The score was tied at 65 entering the fourth.
By then, an impressive start was in the rearview mirror, rendering Lopez's furious display mostly moot. Lopez was even exerting a serious willingness to rebound, crashing the glass in a way that some wish he would do more frequently. He outmuscled Tyson Chandler on one attempt in the second quarter, refusing to let the Mavs' 7-foot center collect the offensive board.
His 18-point, seven-rebound first quarter fueled the Nets' attack as they opened a 35-21 lead after one. Hollins called the 35-point quarter an "aberration." They shot 61.5 percent from the field and, most impressive of all, didn't commit a turnover the entire quarter.
But that efficiency deserted the Nets in the second quarter. The Nets hit only 4 of 19 attempts in the second and Johnson was the only one able to hit a shot, barely mustering up enough offense to keep Dallas at bay and take a 49-43 advantage into the locker room.