Anyone can lose a basketball game, but when you lose one like the Nets lost Saturday night — the 7th game of a playoff series at home to a team playing without key players — there has to be consequences.
All year long the Nets had been battling the Knicks for media attention and fan adulation, and in many ways seemed to be winning, or at least doing no worse than even. It was like the rivalries that we read about between the old Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. And just when it seemed as the Nets were going to pull ahead of the Knicks, who faltered for a while against the Celtics in their playoff series while the Nets were making what seemed like a gutsy comeback against the Bulls, it all fell apart for Brooklyn.
The Nets didn’t just loose, they showed up for the biggest game of the year with everything in their favor and played lethargic, uninspired basketball for the first two quarters, putting themselves in such a deep hole that even a rousing second half comeback couldn’t pull them out of it.
Before the game, P.J. Carlesimo said that the game seven “represents a golden opportunity. People can step up and enhance their reputations.” Or, they can not show up and diminish their reputations, which is what the Nets did. The most diminished was Joe Johnson, who was the single biggest symbol of the Nets’ belly flop. Johnson had an incredibly bad night, one that can’t simply be explained by a bad foot: 2-of-14 for just 6 points.
Think about that 6 points for a moment. All of it might have been redeemed if he had sunk a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left that would have cut the Bulls lead to just two points. If Johnson had hit on just three of his nine 3-point tries the game could have been tied at the end of regulation. If he’s had on just four of nine, they probably would have had the lead.
But Johnson’s baffling ineffectiveness is only part of the problem. I suspect that when Nets fans think back on this devastatingly disappointing loss, the image that they’ll carry that will stand out most vividly in their minds is of a Chicago Bull (usually Joakim Noah) going straight to the basket uncontested for an easy layup, time and time and time again — and sometimes from deep in the back court with just three or four seconds left on the shot clock.
And not just in the first half: Even though the nets won the second half by 11 points they were visibly soft. As Charles Barclay noted in his postgame commentary, “The Nets just weren’t aggressive in the second half.” He was right. They beat the Bulls in the third and fourth periods, but they did it on sheer talent, not on teamwork and toughness. In the last two minutes of the game, Carlesimo was on the sidelines, shaking his head as if to say, “You’d think somebody could do something about this.” You’d think.
I’m happy to see that the Nets front office didn’t simply wait around till next year to see if things broke their way and dumped Carlesimo just hours after the loss. The team is talented and relatively young and only have to worry about losing one significant free agent, Andray Blatche. Everyone today is calling for them to acquire a new tough defender or more aggressive scorer. Maybe, but there’s no reason why the guys that are there now can’t be coached into being those kind of players. The Nets are one tough coach away from being a team that gets past the first round of the playoffs.