EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - After squeaking into the playoffs, the odds were stacked against the Nets to make any noise in the postseason, but they left for Atlanta Tuesday with a renewed sense of confidence and belief that they could oust the East's top seed.
The Nets won both games in Brooklyn, and tied the first-round series 2-2 after Deron Williams' dazzling 35-point performance Monday led them to the Game 4 victory. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Atlanta.
The odds are still against the Nets. To move on, they have to win at least one in Atlanta, where the Hawks are 37-6 this season, including 4-0 against the Nets. But in this series, the Hawks haven't looked as sharp as the 60-win team that breezed through the East and the Nets haven't played like the disappointing 38-win squad that they were.
"Everybody goes in speculating because of records, but once you get to the playoffs, the teams all have to play well and they all have to win," coach Lionel Hollins said Tuesday at the Nets' practice facility. "Look at what's happening with Chicago and Milwaukee. You look at Memphis and Portland. It looks like it's over, but you got to win four games and you got to play through it -- every series.
"To win in the playoffs is a challenge. It's not something for the fainthearted and it's not something for people that don't compete or play hard."
The Nets did that, fighting back to erase a 12-point, second-half deficit and winning, 120-115, in overtime Monday at Barclays Center.
They were fortunate that Atlanta's 18-11 offensive rebounding edge didn't bury them and that sharpshooter Kyle Korver missed 9 of 13 three-point tries. But the Nets moved the ball well -- all five starters scored in double figures -- and made the critical plays and stops to even the series and put the pressure on the Hawks.
"This is kind of what we wanted the whole year; this is how we wanted to play," said Williams, who was 7-for-11 from three and had seven assists.
"It's just good for them to figure it out and understand what it takes to win in this league," Hollins said. "There's a lot of me-ism in our society and in sports brought on by the guy who scores the most points, gets the most accolades and the most money. The reality is to win, you need a lot more from everybody."
The Hawks have exemplified that. Four made the All-Star team and no one averaged more than 16.7 points during the regular season.
But they're no strangers to what's happening in this series. The Hawks were the No. 8 seed last year and lost in seven against top-seeded Indiana.
Only five times in NBA history has a No. 8 beat a No. 1. Hollins coached the 2011 Grizzlies, who knocked out the Spurs, and Thaddeus Young played for the 2012 76ers, who eliminated Chicago.
"Even though our season wasn't as good as we wanted it to be, we're still capable of beating anybody on any given night when we bring our 'A' game," Alan Anderson said. "That's what we're doing right now. Hopefully, we can keep it going."