EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Had the Tyson Chandler deal to Oklahoma City gone through, the Nets might have beat the Hornets last night.
Might is the operative word because late in the game, Chris Paul and the Hornets were making all the big plays while Devin Harris and the Nets were crumbling before your very eyes.
Chandler was being bodied by Vince Carter, but his size advantage allowed him to back-tap an offensive rebound that led to two foul shots and a three-point lead with 9.6 seconds left in a game the Hornets pulled out, 99-96.
Maybe if Chandler doesn’t get that board it’s David West who tracks it down. He had five offensive rebounds anyway, including four in the fourth period. The Hornets’ fourth-quarter board work was a big reason they won this game. They grabbed as many offensive rebounds in the fourth as the Nets did in the game — seven.
About two weeks ago, Chandler was dealt to the Thunder for Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith, only to have the deal voided because the Hornets’ big man failed the physical. Who’s happy now? Not the Nets.
Maybe if Chandler’s not there, the Nets get the key defensive board and Carter or Harris finish off their otherwise brilliant games.
Ultimately, the Nets wasted a game they should have won — up four with the ball and about 1:26 left in the game. They blew the chance to end their homestand with three straight wins and head to Milwaukee just one-half game behind the Bucks for the East’s last playoff spot.
Hustle and execution were the reasons the Hornets won this game and not the Nets. The Hornets made the plays when they had to, and the Nets didn’t.
Blame goes everywhere, but the easiest person to single out is the player who singled himself out: Harris.
The Nets’ All-Star had been enjoying a dream week with games of 39 and 42 points and the ridiculous half-court heave that won the game against the Sixers. Harris proved to be closer material.
But in his big matchup with Paul, Harris wilted late with one turnover, which started basically three consecutive botched possessions that had his fingerprints all over them.
“The point guard play has to be better late in the game,” Harris said.
It was, on the Hornets’ end. After the Nets led by four, Paul assisted a three, had a steal and hit a jumper that put New Orleans up one. He had another steal that led to the Chandler tip and two Rasual Butler foul shots. Then Paul faked Harris into losing sight of a Carter pass that ultimately resulted in a bad right-wing three as Harris was drifting out of bounds.
“I take a lot of the blame,” Harris said. “I have to take the blame for this one.”
This was a big statement game for Harris to prove he belongs in the conversation with Paul among the NBA’s best point guards. Harris was making a statement until the end.
He had 26 points and 14 assists through the first 42:19. Over the final 5:40, Harris was 0-for-5 with a turnover.
For the game, Paul had 14 points, nine assists and eight rebounds and made the plays late.
“When you look at it and the end of the day all that really matters is the win, and he got that,” Harris said. “So, that’s how you take it.”
Harris could have done more and done better to close out his dream week. But the Nets also needed to keep Chandler and West off the boards late. They probably wish New Orleans’ deal with Oklahoma City went through now.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).