NEW YORK -- Jason Kidd pulled everything out of his magic hat on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
He got big minutes out of third-stringers such as Mirza Teletovic and rookie Mason Plumlee as the Brooklyn Nets rose from the dead and erased a 27-point deficit to tie the game in the final four minutes.
Then, after exhausting all his timeouts, Kidd appeared to ask Tyshawn Taylor to run into him, causing him to spill a drink onto the side of the court while Jodie Meeks was at the line for a pair of free throws that would put the Lakers up 97-94 with 8.3 seconds left.
That gave the Nets’ coaching staff a little more time to set up a play for Paul Pierce to do what he does best and hit a dagger against his longtime rival Lakers to send the game to overtime.
So far, though, Pierce the Net has yet to look like Pierce the late-game assassin, who wore Celtic green. After the Nets somehow tied the game at 92 with 3:57 remaining, Pierce had two turnovers and missed his final three shots, including what would have been a game-tying 3 with 2.2 seconds left in a 99-94 loss to the Lakers.
Pierce finished with 12 points on 4-for-17 shooting but did have six rebounds and five assists in one of his more energetic games of the season. He just couldn't finish strong.
The same went for Kevin Garnett (4 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks), who missed one of his patented 17-foot step-back jumpers, which would have tied the game with 18.9 seconds left.
These are the kind of shots the duo have hit their entire decorated careers. But for some reason, they aren’t going down this season so far. And the Nets have to hope that the two veterans are just off to a cold start and not dangerously close to empty in the fuel tank in the twilight of their All-Star careers.
Without Brook Lopez and Deron Williams, Kidd needs Pierce and Garnett more than the organization expected due to the injuries. But on Wednesday, they were unable to deliver as the Nets lost for the ninth time in 11 games.
“I know it is eventually going to turn around,” Pierce said. “I have been in this situation before. I remember a couple of years ago ... I was with a Boston team that was under .500 going into the All-Star break. We weren’t playing well, [but] you look up playoff time, we were one quarter away from being in the [NBA] Finals. So, you know, I believe that I will turn this around and our team will turn this around.”
But if the Nets continue to lose, they might end up regretting their November losses come April.
After Kidd bought the Nets some more time to settle down, Pierce dribbled up the court and got a terrific pick from Garnett at the top of the arc. That freed Pierce up for an open, 27-foot 3-pointer that the former Celtic launched as Pau Gasol desperately tried late to contest. Garnett held one of his long arms up into the air, confident Pierce would bury it, as the ball was on its way.
“I’ve seen ‘Truth’ hit some unbelievable shots in our little run together,” Garnett said. “In that situation, I thought that was down. When he gets that clean of a look, with his feet set ... maybe he needs a hand [in his face].
“I’ve seen him hit some difficult shots in some crucial times,” Garnett added. “Pretty sure he’d tell you it felt good, and I’d live with that shot.”
The Nets have to live with Garnett and Pierce taking those shots. Joe Johnson can’t carry the load every night. He needs help, and Kidd can’t rely on role players to hit those kind of shots. His stars have to take and make them.
“I’ll take that shot every time,” Pierce said. “I have made a lot of those shots in my career.”
“I am being more aggressive than normal, [more] than if we had Deron or Brook,” Pierce later admitted. “But I have to. I got to keep grinding. I am a player that is not going to get down on myself, and I am going to keep playing through the growing pains.”
Garnett continues to keep his head up through a frustrating minutes restriction designed to keep his 37-year-old body healthy for the postseason. He vows to do the only thing he knows how to do: work through this slump.
“One dribble pull up, I work on that,” he said of the shot he missed late. “When I dial that number, I expect for it to pick up, and she didn’t pick up today. I don’t know what’s wrong, if it’s a disconnect, her phone don’t work or what? I put that work in for that shot to go down, and nine out of 10 times I make that.”
The Nets have to learn how to close these type of games out. And Pierce and Garnett have to show them how.
“We are still learning,” Pierce said. “Hopefully we learn before it’s too late, before we are completely out of the playoff mix.
“But we still have time,” Pierce added. “We will be a dangerous team. Right now we got to be able to hold down and get some wins just to gain some confidence. We can’t wait on guys to get healthy. We have to get the job done now. I have to play better. A lot of us have to play better.”