When Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov spoke exclusively to the YES Network at halftime and was asked if he is concerned about being over the luxury tax, his response was, “Heck no.”
In one sequence midway through the fourth quarter, Paul Pierce made it easy to see why the Russian billionaire would have few reservations about being so far over the salary cap.
Still that sequence almost meant little when the Nets blew most of a 12-point lead in the final 2 1/2 minutes before clinching a 101-100 victory over the Heat on two free throws by Joe Johnson with 3.7 seconds left.
“Whenever you are trying to establish something against the champs it's going to be like a playoff atmosphere,” Pierce said. “KG really talked about that coming into the game. Expect it to be like the playoffs. Don't expect anything to go our way because they are the team to beat. It's good that we got a taste of this type of atmosphere to see where we are at. Miami is the measuring stick for everybody so it was good to come out and get the win.”
Long before the Nets nearly dropped their 14th straight game to the Heat, Pierce highlighted his 19-point night with a jumper over former Celtic teammate Ray Allen and an emphatic block on LeBron James.
“The first thing I told all these guys on the team was it’s going to be a pleasure to watch this guy every night,” Kevin Garnett said. “I’ve had the pleasure of having a front-row view. I’ve always called him a Picasso.
“He’s like a beautiful painting. I get to watch him every night and it’s more than a pleasure to be not his friend, but his teammate, [and] to see him do his thing and have games like this. He carried us down the stretch and when we needed a bucket, he found a way to get it.”
Pierce helped get the Nets in control with an 11-point three quarter but it was two sequences in the fourth that left the biggest impression.
In an interesting twist, the first came with Allen defending him. Allen had shadowed him for a few seconds but when he moved slightly, Pierce had the space for a partially contested long jumper just inside the 3-point line and easily converted it for a 90-78 lead with a 6:13 remaining.
Sixty-six seconds later, on the defensive side, as James penetrated to the basket, he attempted a baseline floater but met resistance from Pierce, who fired up the sellout crowd with a block.
“He did everything,” Brook Lopez said. “He scored, got assists and was a playmaker. Being around the ball, his presence, energy and confidence [was] huge for us. It’s contagious.”
Still as much as Pierce’s play fired up the Nets, they still had to sweat it out. They took a 96-84 lead on a Johnson 3-pointer with 2:47 remaining but Miami was within 96-94 after Mario Chalmers banked a top of the key 3-pointer with 18.1 seconds left.
Following a timeout, Pierce inbounded to Deron Williams, who quickly was fouled by Chalmers. With 17.5 seconds left, Williams split a pair at the line but then Allen was fouled with 7.9 seconds left.
Allen made the first but missed the second and then Pierce went to the line. With seven seconds left, Pierce made two free throws but James sank a left corner 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left. Chris Bosh went to the line but made the second foul shot despite trying to intentionally miss and the Nets ran out the clock.
Despite the near collapse, the Nets only trailed for 88 seconds, proving that at least in the first week of the regular season they could stack up against the Heat.
“It is big because you are playing against the best team in the NBA, but we're also trying to establish some home presence here,” Pierce said. “In order for us to be one of the better teams in the NBA you have to establish something at home. Tonight we got off to a good start in trying to do that.”
The concept of a statement game is still up for debate, though there was little doubt it was a significant one after falling short Wednesday in Cleveland.
“I think we wanted this a little more,” Garnett said. “No disrespect to the champs and what they are trying to accomplish this year but we knew playing at home, coming from Cleveland, that we would play better. We watched a lot of film and saw our mistakes, so we were locked into what we wanted to do and we played with that in mind through the whole game.”
Nobody on the Nets took more than 11 shots as they shot 48.5 percent. Garnett played 25:48 and had six points and seven rebounds, Alan Anderson and Andrei Kirilenko had eight apiece and Jason Terry hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first half while urging the crowd to do the “Brooklyn chant” and occasionally talking trash.
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.