The New Jersey Nets, looking for wins wherever they can find them, caught a break when Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade left the game with 4:34 remaining in the first quarter due to an injured calf. The Nets could not took advantage, however.
Minus Wade, the Heat leaned on power forward Michael Beasley and closed out the Nets, 87-84. Beasley, possibly playing his final game as a member of the Heat, exploded for 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting and 11 rebounds.
With the Heat leading, 83-82, and 27 seconds left, Beasley came up with a critical block. Kris Humphries drove to the basket and had his layup denied by Beasley. Although the block came after the ball hit the backboard, there was a deflection on Humphries’ shot before the ball made it to the glass.
Former New Jersey guard Rafer Alston credited Beasley with taking over the game in Wade’s absence.
“He was great,” Alston said. “He knew that, with the situation with Dwyane being down and [Jermaine O’Neal] still hobbling, we were really going to ride him and he really responded to the challenge.”
Beasley said he tried to step up and lead the team in Wade’s absence.
“We just came together as a team,” Beasley said. “I tried to step up and be a leader for the team with Dwyane going down. I think the whole team came together.”
After two Quentin Richardson free-throws increased the Heat lead to 85-82, the Nets attempted to go for a quick two instead of settling for a three-pointer. Devin Harris’ floater came up short, however.
Miami limited New Jersey to 35.7 percent shooting, including 1-of-15 from behind the arc. Courtney Lee and Jarvis Hayes combined to shoot 1-of-13 from the field.
“We played good enough defense, I thought, to win the game, but we just couldn’t hit a shot for the life of us,” Nets interim head coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. “We missed wide open shots… [Miami] was playing great defense but (we) just couldn’t throw it in the ocean.”
The Nets matched their largest lead of the night when Keyon Dooling drove to the basket and converted a layup while getting fouled. After the free-throw, New Jersey led, 80-74, with 4:56 left to play in the game. In familiar fashion, the Nets couldn’t close out the game.
Lee missed consecutive three-pointers that would have given New Jersey a 9-point lead. Miami subsequently went on a 13-2 run and prevented New Jersey from winning back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Devin Harris, who scored 18 points and dished out six assists, said the team let one slip away.
“It’s disappointing,” Harris said. “Obviously it’s a game we should have won. It came down to fourth quarter execution and we had some great looks, we just couldn’t get any of them to fall.”
Keyon Dooling agreed.
“Games like this, we’ve got to win them,” said Dooling, who scored 14 points off the bench. “Bottom line, you don’t get opportunities like this… Flash wasn’t there tonight, so that was a great opportunity for us to get a win. To there credit, you have to tip your hat to them.”
Alston said that the Heat used Wade’s injury as a rallying point.
“We didn’t know. We were hoping it was just a little tweak and he could come on back, but he couldn’t make it back,” Alston said. “I think we rallied around that. We just kept playing hard and found a way to win the game.”
The Nets trailed, 51-45, at halftime and 70-66 after three quarters. New Jersey regained its first lead since the second quarter when Brook Lopez slammed home an alley-oop pass from Terrence Williams with 10:18 left in the game. New Jersey led, 71-70.
Despite scoring a game-high 26 points, Brook Lopez made only that one field goal in the fourth quarter. With the team struggling to hit outside shots, it became increasingly difficult to find Lopez.
“I’ve got to take a little bit of responsibility managing the game,” said Harris, who thought the team should’ve run more plays for Lopez. “I thought we went a little too much pick-and-roll. I thought we should’ve went a little more to Brook and kind of play through him. That’s something that I’ll take responsibility on.”
With Wade in the game, Miami jumped out to an 18-13 lead. Following his injury, New Jersey responded with a 16-5 run to grab a 29-23 lead. After the Heat called timeout, the team answered with a 13-4 run, keyed by six points from Beasley.
With tomorrow’s 3 p.m. trade deadline looming, Beasley said he wasn’t affected by the rumors that he could be swapped in a deal that would bring Phoenix’s Amare Stoudemire to Miami.
“No, you can’t do nothing about that,” Beasley said. “You’ve got to play [through it].”