The Nets’ unraveling began, innocently enough, with Andray Blatche missing a point-blank shot under the basket nearly five minutes into the third quarter.
A hoop by Blatche in that spot could have sliced Miami’s lead to 56-54. Instead, it jumpstarted the Heat on a 14-2 spurt, a stretch from which the Nets never fully recovered.
Brooklyn never closed to within single digits the rest of the night, undone by shoddy defense, lack of ball movement (11 assists to 11 turnovers) and a lopsided deficit in paint points.
“Our defense was bad,” said point guard Deron Williams, who scored 17. “We can’t allow them to get layup after layup.”
And offensively, “we have to be more aggressive,” Kevin Garnett said. “Shaun Livingston was the only starter that went to the free throw line [1 for 2]. We can’t have that.”
In sum, this in no way resembled the four regular season games between
the teams, all won by the Nets.
“That’s why they’re the champs,” Paul Pierce said. “We’ve got to have double the effort. [But] it was a three-point game at the half. We’re not overreacting. We feel like we can still get a game in this building.”
With his team down 79-66, Nets coach Jason Kidd opened the fourth quarter with four backups and Livingston.
That lineup floundered offensively, and the Heat extended the lead to 86-70 by the time Garnett returned with 7:06 left.
With the Heat firmly in control, Kidd decided not to bother re-inserting Pierce, Joe Johnson or Williams. “I wanted to give the stars a break,” Kidd said.
It was disappointing opener for the Nets’ future Hall of Famers.
Garnett, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds in Sunday’s Game 7 win against Toronto, went scoreless in 15 minutes, the first time he failed to score in a playoff game. He took only two shots, missing both, and had four rebounds while being thoroughly outplayed by Chris Bosh (15 points, 11 boards).
“They have some holes in their defense we can probably compromise,” Garnett said. “They have been waiting on us. They have been resting. They have been hearing that we beat them [all four games]. That was gasoline on the fire.”
Pierce, who averaged more points against the Heat this season than any other team (21.3), scored just 8 points on 3 for 8 shooting in 28 minutes.
LeBron James opened defensively against Pierce, with Shane Battier guarding Johnson, who scored 17.
“We’ve got to do a better job with our defense,” Pierce said. “You can’t give a team like Miami this many layups. We’ve got to put up more resistance.”
The Nets succeeded in curtailing the Heat’s fast break points (just four) but couldn’t generate nearly enough easy baskets of their own.
Brooklyn managed seven fast break points, missed 7 of 17 free throws and was outscored, 52-28, in the paint.
“We didn’t move the ball well enough to attack,” Pierce said. “We made the first pass, but not the second or third.”
Said Kidd: “The ball was sticking too much.” And defensively, “we couldn’t keep them out of the paint.”
Brooklyn held the Heat to 94.3 points per game in the regular season, eight points below Miami’s overall average. But the Heat easily surpassed that Wednesday, shooting 56.8 percent from the field.
“It’s hard to beat a team shooting that great,” Johnson said.
Also noteworthy: The Nets outrebounded the Heat, 201-158, in the four games in the regular season, but were outrebounded 37-32 in Game 1.