CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Unless they find a way to stop Jason Kidd, the Hornets will never play another game in Charlotte.
His right eye swollen, bruised and bandaged, Kidd looked like a battered boxer Sunday as he led the New Jersey Nets to an 89-79 victory in what may have been the Hornets' final game in Charlotte.
Kidd scored 24 points and made eight free throws in the fourth quarter as the Nets made all the big plays down the stretch to open 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Game 5 is Wednesday in New Jersey, where a victory would put the Nets in the conference finals for the first time in team history and would end the Hornets' 14-year era in Charlotte.
"If we don't believe, then there's no point in even going to New Jersey," Charlotte captain David Wesley said. "We just need a better effort and we'll be back."
The team is relocating to New Orleans next season, and the 13,864 fans - more than 6,000 short of capacity - gave them a standing ovation as the game wound down. With the finality of it all setting in, they crowded the tunnel, applauding the players as the Hornets dejectedly ran to the locker room.
"I'm confident we can still win the series," said guard Baron Davis, who led the Hornets with 20 points but went just 9-for-17 on free throws.
"It's just a matter of everyone else being confident. We can't beat this team three games in a row? Execute and we can, we just need some soul searching."
George Lynch added 19 and Wesley had 15.
But the game belonged to Kidd, who opened a gash above his eye in a head-to-head collision with Wesley in Game 3.
He was a game-time decision because no one was sure how swollen his right eye would be.
"When I woke up with my eye closed, I had some doubt about playing," Kidd said.
But the swelling eventually went down. So with a lot of puffiness, heavy bandages covering the stitches in his eyebrow and a deep purple bruise below it, Kidd looked to be on the mark when he hit his first shot, an 18-foot jumper from the top of the key.
It turned out to be a false sign as Kidd struggled from the floor through most of the game. After missing his first six 3-point attempts, he made one midway through the fourth and scored on a fast-break layup that drew a foul and gave the Nets a 78-69 lead with 6:07 to play.
"My vision was great, the Band-Aids didn't bother me, and I had one good eye - that's sometimes better off than two," he said. "Other than some questionable passes, I was fine."
He made critical free throws down the stretch, going 11-of-14 at the line. It helped make up for his 6-for-23 shooting night - he went just 1-of-9 on 3-pointers.
The Hornets had their own problems. Jamal Mashburn was sidelined with a virus for the seventh straight game, and did not even make it to the arena. Center Elden Campbell was hit with a 24-hour virus on Saturday and had to play his way through that. He was clearly off, finishing with just seven points and six rebounds.
The Hornets, struggling at the free throw line and being dominated on the glass, fell apart in the fourth quarter.
Davis had several opportunities at the line, but missed 3-of-6 free throws down the stretch. And their rebounding effort took a hit when P.J. Brown, who led everyone with 16 boards, fouled out 4:26 to play.
It allowed the Nets to continue their domination of the glass - the outrebounded Charlotte 51-40, getting 11 each from Kidd and Keith Van Horn.
"I think our chances of winning are good when we outrebound them or keep it close," said Kenyon Martin, who scored 13 points.
Kerry Kittles had 20 points for New Jersey and Van Horn added 16.
The officials set the tone early on aggressive play, calling a foul on Van Horn for making contact with Davis on the tipoff and following it with two technicals and a flagrant foul against New Jersey in the first half and one technical against the Hornets.
Afterward, the Hornets clearly thought the officiating favored the Nets, with Campbell calling it "same as always, it's consistently going to be bad."
Wesley hinted that the officiating could have been linked to NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik's televised remark that the Hornets' advancement in the playoffs would be "an embarrassment" to the league.
"You saw it, it was very evident what went on out here," Wesley said. "There's no question that it wasn't right."
But Hornets coach Paul Silas refused to blame the refs, instead criticizing his team for complaining too much about calls and allowing it to affect them during the game.
"Blaming refs and dealing with them is for losers," Silas said. "I won't take us doing that."
Notes: Kidd's wife, Joumana, said she was certain Kidd's eye would not sideline him Sunday. "Even if it was glued shut, he would have tried to play a quarter," she said. ... Silas and several players lingered during the pre-game shootaround signing autographs, a sign that they realized it could be their last game in Charlotte. ... Silas said he doubted Charlotte would be able to lure another NBA franchise until the city built a new arena. "It will take a real commitment (from the city) and that's a gamble."
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