The team with the $102 million payroll and the $80 million luxury tax bill — the NBA’s highest in both categories — ultimately couldn’t make it out of the second round of the playoffs.
The Brooklyn Nets, with a roster constructed primarily to beat the Heat, went cold at the most inopportune time Wednesday night, enduring a 4-minute, 37-second scoreless drought that saw an eight-point Nets lead turn into a deficit, and ultimately a season-ending 96-94 Game 5 loss.
The Heat closed the game on a 13-3 run, with the Nets missing nine of their final 10 shots. And the Nets couldn’t even get up a shot on their final possession, with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Instead, Ray Allen poked the ball away from Joe Johnson as he tried to drive in the final seconds, and LeBron James kept Johnson from retrieving it.
“I felt like I was fouled … [but] it shouldn’t have even come down to that,” Johnson said. “I tried to get off a shot, but, obviously, I was in a crowd. There were some questionable calls down the stretch. It’s tough because this obviously was a game we should have won.”
Johnson scored 34 points (24 in the second half), made 10 of his first 11 shots in the second half and had Brooklyn’s final four field goals.
But he also missed two late shots (James blocked one of them) and lost the ball to end the game.
“It’s very disappointing to go out like this,” Johnson said. “This team was assembled to win the championship. It’s very frustrating.
“More than anything, down the stretch with about two or three minutes left, we had a lead, we were playing too cautious. We were playing against the clock, not being aggressive making plays. Then the clock got down to five and three seconds and taking tough shots. We made it hard on ourselves.”
Johnson, exceptional for so much of the night, put the Nets ahead 91-83 with a jumper with 4:49 left.
From there, the Nets turned frigid.
Mirza Teletovic missed a three, Shaun Livingston missed an eight-footer and Teletovic missed another three, followed by two misses from Paul Pierce. James blocked a Johnson jumper with 1:30 left.
After James’ free throws drew the Heat to within one at the 1:12 mark, Johnson missed a three with 49 seconds left, before Allen’s three gave Miami its first lead since the second quarter with 32 seconds to go, at 93-91.
“Defensively, we had a lot of miscommunication and breakdowns,” Johnson said, citing Allen’s go-ahead three-pointer.
And offensively, “we had some great looks down the stretch, but they just didn’t go down.”
Livingston then drove into the lane but missed a jumper, and Allen made two free throws after a foul.
Pierce then missed a three, but Livingston rebounded, and Johnson’s three with 11 seconds to go ended the 4:37 Nets drought and closed Brooklyn within 95-94.
But after James made one of two free throws with nine seconds left, the Nets couldn’t even get off a shot.
“Too many breakdowns defensively,” said Pierce, who scored 19 points. “We just came up short in a game of inches. We played as hard as we could but we didn’t play smart.”
Pierce, an impending free agent, said he wants to play one or two more seasons but was noncommittal about whether he wanted to remain with the Nets.
“They played tough, smothering defense,” said Deron Williams, who scored 17 points but went scoreless (0 for 2) in the fourth quarter and shot 22 for 60 (36.7 percent) in the series.