Nets Win 13th Straight, Clinch Atlantic Title
New Jersey 96, Atlanta 94
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., April 4 (Ticker) -- With a 23-point lead and their division title wrapped up, the New Jersey Nets may have relaxed a little too early. Vince Carterand Jason Kidd are hoping it doesn't become a habit.
Carter scored 27 points and Kidd added 11 and 13 assists as the Nets extended their winning streak to 13 games, holding on for a 96-94 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
"I can't say we didn't let our guard down," Carter said. "You just hope it doesn't happen down the stretch. We're a veteran team that knows better."
"Hopefully, it will be a wake-up call for us," Kidd said. "The big thing is for to continue to get better and play for 48 minutes. (The winning streak) is great but it can also be dangerous if you become complacent and feel you can turn it on when you want."
With only nine players as starting center Zaza Pachulia (flu), reserve forward Josh Childress (sprained ankle) and key rookies Salim Stoudamire (sprained elbow) and Marvin Williams (personal reasons) not playing, Atlanta relied on rookies Donta Smith and Anthony Grundy to provide a spark.
"No matter who we play or who is in uniform for us, they have competed," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "I tip my hat to my guys because they never quit. That's the sign of a team that is still hungry, even though we're not playing for anything."
The Hawks opened the fourth with a 22-4 run, making 11 of their first 16 shots. Smith scored nine of his season-high 13 points and Grundy added a pair of baskets during the burst, bringing Atlanta within 82-81 on an ally-oop from Joe Johnson with 5:18 left.
Carter answered with a 3-pointer 12 seconds later and gave the Nets further breathing room with 85 seconds left, sinking three free throws after getting fouled on a 3-pointer, for a 92-86 edge.
After Nenad Krstic sank two free throws, Johnson buried a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to close within 94-92 with 32 seconds to go. Carter missed a pair of shots at the other end, giving the Hawks a chance to take the lead, but Johnson was called for an offensive foul for pushing Richard Jefferson while driving toward the lane.
"We fought hard in that fourth quarter and for that to be the deciding part of the game, that's a tough call," Johnson said. "We should've had a better chance than that."
Carter sank a pair from the line to seal the victory, helping the Nets extend the second-longest winning streak in franchise history and match the longest in the NBA this season. New Jersey won a team-record 14 straight games from January 25-February 24, 2004.
"This is my first (division title), so it's a great feeling," Carter said. "But we, as my grandmother used to say, have bigger fish to fry. We have a lot of things we want to accomplish."
Carter scored at least 20 points for the 18th consecutive game, matching the franchise record he set from January 28-March 5, 2005. He made only 7-of-21 shots, but was 11-of-12 from the line and grabbed nine rebounds.
New Jersey survived despite making just 4-of-24 shots in the fourth quarter and allowing Atlanta to score 37 points on 58 percent (14-of-24) from the floor.
Jefferson scored 16 of his 17 points in the first half and Krstic collected 17 and a career-high 14 rebounds for the Nets, who have won nine straight home games against the Hawks and eight of the last nine meetings overall.
Johnson finished with 33 points and Josh Smith had eight points, 12 rebounds and eight assists but made only 3-of-15 shots as Atlanta lost for the eighth time in nine games.
"We had some low moments when we got down but we kept fighting and had a chance at the end to win it or at least go into overtime," Woodson said. "You just have to forget about it and move on."
The Nets led throughout a sloppy first half for both teams and had a 63-53 edge before scoring 15 of the final 19 points in the third quarter. Krstic scored five during the stretch, including a dunk over Esteban Batista, and capped the quarter with a long jumper from the left corner at the buzzer for a 78-57 cushion.