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.
It wasn’t exactly inspiring for the Nets when the Lakers quickly dispatched them in four games from the franchise’s first NBA Finals a year earlier, but that didn’t stop them from fighting right back to the same point the following year. Behind the continued leadership of Jason Kidd, the Nets were back in the Finals, facing a juggernaut Spurs team led by MVP Tim Duncan.
There was something different about this series, though. A year earlier, the Nets were just happy to get there. The team hadn’t been in sniffing distance of a title since the ABA days, and it was just a little bit overwhelming. But with a bit more cohesiveness under the team’s proverbial belt, they were able to enter this series, however outmatched on paper, with a “we’ve been here before” attitude.
While Game 1 hardly went as planned for the Nets in dropping the opener to the Spurs, they were hardly discouraged — and that showed in their narrow Game 2 victory in San Antonio, 87-85 to snatch home-court advantage in the series in the team’s first ever NBA Finals win.
This series will always be memorable: if not for the intriguing yet lulling matchup between two defense-first teams, then for the hilarious fact that Stephen Jackson actually started for a championship squad. If not for the determination and resolve of the Nets, then for witnessing one final meaningful finger wag from Dikembe Mutombo. If not for the appreciation of Duncan’s swelling greatness, then for the last hurrah of The Admiral David Robinson.
Yes, Game 2 injected the Nets with notable greatness. Kidd was coming off a poor Game 1, reaffirming the belief of many Spurs’ faithfuls that he was no suitable partner for Duncan. Kidd answered with a resounding call for silence, filling up the box with 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. In fact, he hit a number of key shots down the stretch to stave off a Spurs run, something that became a dominant characteristic of this series.
Aside from Kidd, though, the Nets you might expect to play a role in a victory like this were conspicuously absent (at least on the offensive end — the Nets’ immaculate team defense in this series can never be overstated). Richard Jefferson, Kerry Kittles, and Kenyon Martin shot a combined 12-of-33 from the field.
Instead, it was a pair of role players who made the two-point difference. Lucious Harris found his shooting stroke off the bench, going 5-of-7 from the field to pair with seven key rebounds. Then there was Deke, ol’ Mutombo, who played 20 minutes, blocked 3 shots, and scored 4 points of his own. Without that combination of offense and defense from the pine, the Nets don’t win this game — and might not win a single game in the entire series.
Still, the Nets didn’t get the W without a few breaks. Duncan shot just 3-of-10 from the charity stripe, and the Spurs combined to shoot a hair over 56 percent on the freebies. Rookie Manu Ginobili, who was still officially listed as Emmanuel back then, was not himself off the bench, logging only 4 points on 1-of-6 shooting. He was averaging over 9 points a game in the playoffs that year.
It took great concentration for the Nets to continue to battle throughout this game, again and again fending off the jabs from the Spurs. It wasn’t something they did well in every game (in fact, in the clinching Game 6, they had a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter before surrendering a 19-0 run to the Spurs), but anyone could tell the Nets really wanted this win. More than anything, it set the tone for the rest of the series that the Nets weren’t just doormats like the previous year. They had the gall to win a game or two in the Finals.
Nevertheless, that Game 2 win was the closest the Nets have gotten to a title since the NBA-ABA merger. They did win Game 4, but that win came in such ugly fashion that the series didn’t bode well from there on out — and it didn’t. The Nets are the butt of the joke now, but no one ever seems to remember these days when they could play with anyone.