Not with a bang, but with a whisper.
Look, you’re likely reading these final game grades for a reason: maybe the Golden State Warriors haven’t tipped off yet in their pursuit of win 73, or perhaps you’re truly interested in what might be a parade of players’ last performances in black and white. But, above all, you’re probably here after this long, ugly 82 game slog because you love the Nets.
I write these words because, in the Nets’ 2015-2016 finale, there is hardly anything worth writing anything about. With Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young stuck in warm-ups and the 2nd-seeded Toronto Raptors leaving everyone, and we mean everyone, in Canada, there was little hope for long-lasting conclusions. After one quarter against the Raptors’ D-League-worthy (although those in glass houses must not throw stones) starting lineup, the Nets led 26-16, and Bojan Bogdanovic tried to carry everybody on his back one final time.
Has there ever been a more endearing 60-loss basketball team? For every double-digit loss, there was an ever-evolving Nets team emerging slowly. Whether it was a Hollis-Jefferson block, McCullough dunk, or a Vine-able shimmy-fake-fadeaway-whatever-you-call-it that Lopez regularly pulled out of his bag, these Nets developed even if the box score lines didn’t tell those stories.
And develop they did — Markel Brown, glued to Lionel Hollins’ bench for much of the season for being a guard that couldn’t shoot, had improved his jumper so much that his energy became an invaluable asset with the second unit. Or, Bogdanovic, who was forced into the main perimeter scoring role after Johnson left for Miami, would score 44 points, a career-high and an incidental homage to his hero, Drazen Petrovic, just weeks later. Tonight, Bogdanovic put on his shooting shoes and dropped 21 first half points — a fleeting reminder of what the talented scorer can do once more.
For many, the last few months have served as on-going auditions and while some may not come back or opt into their contracts, tonight may be their last game in a Brooklyn uniform. Like Shane Larkin, whose two first half steals spurred the Nets to their 16-point lead, or Donald Sloan’s double-double (11 points, 10 assists) to keep things close in the fourth. Alas, their defensive woes would continue through to the very bitter end, giving up 30 points to Norman Powell — but, at this point, we’re beating a dead horse so enough of that.
As the game started to slip away from the Nets in the third quarter, a wave of clarity washed over me: this was always how this season would this end. Not with a bang, but with a whisper. Nothing new can be discerned from this game because we’ve been writing about it since February — they don’t play defense (45 FG% for Toronto), they can’t shoot threes (10-26), and they struggle to score without Lopez on the court (just Bogdanovic scored above 15 points).
The Nets, who were once up 20-4, fell behind by 16 of their own at quarter’s end. With just 12 minutes left in a bumpy, frustrating season, all that was left was the window dressing. So, with that in mind, I wrote a small poem for everybody that played tonight as a token of appreciation for participating until the very end.
Hollis-Jefferson briefly spoke to the fans before the game, even offering the smallest piece of optimism heading into the off-season: “We look forward to building and getting better this summer … stick with us.”
For these Nets, there’s nowhere to go but up.
The stats: 8 PTS, 3-5 FG, 3 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLKS, 1 TOV
What a day, what a lovely day!
With Rondae, every day
Is a wonderful day!
From dunks to blocks
He’s got Brooklyn’s love on lock!