It’s the playoffs. Even though the Nets aren’t involved, we can’t help but think about the postseason. This week, here are our favorite Nets playoff memories.
In 2002, the Nets were transformed from a laughingstock to an Eastern Conference force, all with the help of one acquisition: the addition of Jason Kidd. The pre-Kidd Nets to post-Kidd earned the best “worst to first” mark in NBA history up to that point, doubling their win total from 26 to 52, winning the Atlantic Division, and locking up the number one overall seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Still, even after that dazzling regular-season performance, the Nets still needed to clear significant hurdles and demonstrate success in the playoffs to really be considered a force. Heck, even Jason Kidd had some demons to exorcise as up to that point: for all his regular season success, Kidd was just 1-5 in the playoffs for his career.
Their opponent in the first round was the Indiana Pacers. That year the Pacers finished 42-40, good enough for the eighth seed, but little did we know as Nets fans that this was no ordinary eighth seed. This same exact core would go on to win 61 games two years later and, if not for the Ron Artest melee, could have been NBA champions.
After the Nets took a 2-1 series lead, Indiana forced the deciding game by thrashing the Nets, 97-74, in game four. Heading into game five, the series turned into a dogfight and could have gone either way.
Game five itself was an electric atmosphere. Up to that point I had been to a lot of Nets games, but I don’t remember a crowd like that (I would know, I was there!) and haven’t heard one since. As the pressure mounted and as the clock went from regulation, to overtime, to the second overtime, the game morphed from a basketball game into a heavyweight championship bout. Each team trading blow after blow.
It was a classic hero vs. villain story.
The antagonist was one the metro region was familiar with. Reggie Miller had long been a thorn in the side of playoff hopefuls around the Hudson River, except normally it was the Knicks he would torture. On this night and in this series, it was the NJ side of the river that felt his powers. His overtime-forcing, hail-mary three-pointer was one of the most dramatic shots I’ve ever experienced firsthand.
The hero? None other than Jason Kidd. He was brought into New Jersey to turn around a struggling franchise. Everyone laughed at him when he declared the Nets could win 40 games in his inaugural season, but Kidd delivered on that and so much more. I think tape of this game should go in Kidd’s career vault, as it showed his true capacity to affect a basketball game. Offensively, the game dictated Kidd to be more aggressive, and the consummate pass-first PG looked to score at the rim and with pull-up jumpers. On defense, Kidd was everywhere; guarding bigs in switches, zigging and zagging around screens as he tried to stay with Miller, and taking charges. It was a truly virtuoso performance.
There was so many ups and downs in this game, so many “moments”, here are just a few:
- Kenyon Martin’s pre-game “crowd pump up” tradition was born in this playoff series. No roar was ever louder than the one on this night.
- Keith Van Horn’s wild run of three-pointers in the third quarter.
- The near-automatic from the free throw line Reggie Miller missed a free throw with a chance to tie the game with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
- Then-rookie Richard Jefferson earned “playoff experience” right before our eyes as his two missed free throws failed to clinch the game and allowed for Reggie’s miracle three-pointer.
- Down a point with 29 seconds left in OT number one and out of a time-out, Jason Kidd sliced through Indiana’s defense before dropping off a pass to K-Mart – who threw down a monster dunk.
- Down by two at the end of the first OT, Reggie again tied the game with a two-handed dunk.
- The Nets finally took over in the second overtime, led as usual by “Captain Kidd”. His feed to Kerry Kittles for a breakout lay-up and the foul was the first time in the entire game I actually felt comfortable and at ease with the proceedings.
After the game, I remember walking through the parking lot with nearly 20,000 Nets fans, all of us realizing what a truly great game we had just witnessed.
As it was, this win was the type of win that catapulted the Nets through the rest of the playoffs, as they advanced to the NBA finals that season. Below is a video I put together of some of my favorite moments of that game as highlighted above: