On May 4th, 2013 the Brooklyn Nets bowed out at home in Game 7 of the first round to a depleted Chicago Bulls team led by Joakim Noah (of course) and a Marco Belinelli-Nate Robinson backcourt combo. The shiny “new” franchise in the NBA looked shell-shocked as Belinelli ball danced around the Barclays Center after hitting a three point dagger.
Joe Johnson quickly became the punching bag as the Nets big acquisition went 2-of-14 from the field and put up a measly six points.
Reggie Evans played 26 minutes.
Gerald Wallace played 40.
Brook Lopez played 37 (Anyone remember him????).
This version of the Nets was a soulless group of individuals put together by the money of Mikhail Prokhorov in order to bring a contender to the borough of Brooklyn. It didn’t work. Prokhorov went back to his state of the art drawling board on one of his yachts and figured out how he could possibly field a team that would bring the instant satisfaction and glamour of winning a championship.
His team had to add a semblance of a soul if they were going to become a title contender. So why not poach one from one of the NBA’s all-time great franchises? For a man like Prokhorov adding an end of the road version of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce made perfect sense. It gave his team the veteran leadership they lacked during Brooklyn’s first go around in the playoffs. If this team was going to be a title contender, it was going to need two guys who have slogged through the trenches of NBA hell and reached the peak of the mountain.
Prokhorov was essentially playing the basketball version of Dr. Frankenstein. The Barclays Center is his laboratory and his monster needed a few more parts in order to be the next team in line to try and stop the Heat’s run to a third straight NBA title. For just about half of the regular season, the Nets looked like one of the biggest disasters in the history of the NBA. And then through a myriad of small-ball lineups and patch work units from the scheming mind of Jason Kidd, Brooklyn righted the ship, clinched a playoff spot and then tanked in order to avoid the Bulls in the first round because Kidd is smart enough to realize that Tom Thibodeau would’ve coached circles around him.
The prize the Nets received was the upstart Toronto Raptors, who early on in their first round series proved that:
A.) They were not a fluky three seed and have a bright future.
B.) The craziest fan base in the entire league resides in the T-Dot.
C.) Drake has quite a few letter jackets for someone without a single athletic achievement.
D.) DeMar DeRozan’s offensive game looks like an exact clone of Paul George’s.
E.) Toronto fans don’t understand the proper time to chant “______ sucks”.
The Raptors had two opportunities to close out the Nets and finally end the rollercoaster ride that began when Pierce and Garnett were added from Boston. Brooklyn didn’t just respond to the challenge, they proved that the giant pot of Prokhorov’s Russian gold bought this team a soul it didn’t have a year ago to the date.
On May 4, 2014 the Brooklyn Nets advanced to a second round date with the mighty Miami Heat thanks to a fourth quarter takeover from Mr. Punching bag himself Joe Johnson. J.J. (Does anyone call him that?) finished with a team high 26 points on an 11-for-25 day from the field, basically the exact opposite of the passive player who looked spooked when his team was in the same situation last year.
Remember those 26 minutes Reggie Evans played against the Bulls in Game 7 last year? I’ll wait while he misses another free throw in his driveway.
Well, Garnett played 27 minutes in Game 6 and 25 minutes in Game 7. His double-double in Game 7 was just his fourth of the season. He put up back-to-back double digits games for just the second time all season. He’s looked a step and a half slow since coming over from the Celtics, but when your career flashes before your eyes, transcendent stars have the ability to tap into the well. It’s just a matter if there’s still water at the bottom. Garnett drank that water before Game 6 and Game 7 and in both of those games he looked like someone who didn’t want his career to end.
Kudos also has to be given to Jason Kidd for discovering new lineup quirks during his team’s frantic comeback in Game 5. His ability to change his rotations on the fly is something that some coaches (enter mandatory joke about Scott Brooks and Frank Vogel here) really struggle with. Kidd has no fear of figuring out how to get someone like Alan Anderson or Marcus Thornton on the floor. Thornton responded on Sunday by easily playing his best game of the series (4-6 from beyond the arc, 17 points).
The Nets received their wish on Sunday, a date with the Miami Heat in the second round. It’s a chance for Garnett and Pierce to get the best of LeBron and Wade one last time. It’s a chance to prove that this championship or bust roster is more than just a bank statement full of luxury tax penalties waiting to be assessed.
We now know the Brooklyn Nets actually have a soul, but do they have the heart of a real contender?
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