WASHINGTON -- Everything seemed perfect.
As it turned out, too perfect.
All they had to do was protect a lead heading into the fourth quarter -- and the Nets don’t lose games when leading after three quarters.
Except, of course, when they are facing the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center.
The Nets dropped just their second game of the season when leading after three quarters on Saturday night, squandering a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and falling to the Wizards 101-94.
They are a perfect 31-0 in that same scenario against every other team.
Their only blemishes? Nov. 8, 2013, and March 15, 2014, -- both in D.C.
The Nets were outscored 29-15 by the Wizards in the final period. They went without a field goal for the final 6:22 and a point for the final 4:26, as Washington closed on a 14-3 run, the sellout crowd giving the building a playoff-like atmosphere.
“I think we stopped executing,” said Andrei Kirilenko, who went 1-for-4 from the free-throw stripe in the fourth. “We kind of started trying to hold a 10-point difference, instead of executing. We’ve been a little reckless with the ball. We had three or four turnovers in a row that let them put their hands on the ball. We have to play better than that.”
Normally, they do. But this one was different. Nothing went perfectly.
Rather, it turned out to be a colossal meltdown.
“We never could really give them that big hit, and they just kept grinding, kept grinding and got back in the game,” Paul Pierce said. “We just had a terrible offensive and defensive fourth quarter, and we can’t do that with the playoffs looming around the corner. We gotta be more solid, we gotta be more consistent.”
As a result, the Nets (33-31) fell to 0-3 against the Wizards in 2013-14, saw their three-game winning streak come to an end and fell below fifth-seeded Washington (35-31) in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.
At this point, it seems unlikely the Nets and Wizards will face each other in the postseason. But it’s a matchup Brooklyn would probably rather avoid.
In its three wins over the Nets, Washington is averaging 108.7 points per game -- led by its dynamo point guard, John Wall, who is averaging 23.7 points and 8.7 assists in those games.
Wall had 33 points and six assists on Saturday night, while Drew Gooden -- yes, Drew Gooden -- added 21 points, 11 of them coming in the fourth.
“They’re good. they’re coming into their own,” Pierce said. “They’re growing up right before our eyes. You’ve seen their struggles over the years with John Wall, he’s matured as a player obviously, becoming an All-Star this year, taking on more responsibility, becoming a leader for that ballclub. So, that’s what the Washington Wizards have been waiting on, and you’re seeing it.”
With 18 games remaining, seeds Nos. 3-6 in the East are bunched together. Things are going to be very interesting during the stretch and into the playoffs, these teams -- Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Brooklyn -- jostling for position.
Seems like the Nets would prefer to avoid the Bulls and the Wizards, if they can, and face the Raptors. But who knows. Playoff experience is one of Brooklyn’s biggest strengths, and Washington and Toronto don’t have much.
As most of the players said, it feels like the postseason has already started. And going 5-for-16 from the field in the fourth quarter, missing eight straight shots to close and getting no points from anyone other than Marcus Thornton (10), Pierce (two) and Kirilenko (one) isn’t going to cut it.
“It felt like a playoff game,” said Deron Williams, who went 0-for-7 from the field in the final three quarters. “And we just lost it.”