Playoffs: ’94’s and Heartbreak
In what could have been a watershed moment for the New Jersey Nets franchise – a moment where they could finally knock the entitled grins off the collective Knicks community’s faces – they came up short once again in the first round of the 1993-94 playoffs against the Knicks. As the 7th seed, the Nets appeared to have an edge against the ballyhooed Knicks, who were the consensus pick to reach the NBA Finals with Michael Jordan now retired. The Nets had taken 4 of 5 regular season games against the Knicks. They had two all-stars in Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson. They actually did better than the season prior despite the tragic death of Drazen Petrovic. But the Knicks won the best of 5 series 3 games to 1. Even after the team’s one victory in game 3, the Nets could never regain their regular season dominance against the Knicks.
Game 1, a 91-80 victory for the Knicks saw New York win they way they knew best – with smothering defense. Despite 25 points and 10 rebounds from Coleman, the Nets overall shot 37 percent from the floor with 19 turnovers. Anderson was 3-11 from the floor.
Game 2 showed a nearly identical score (90-81 Knicks) and even worse offensive performance for the Nets. The team collectively shot 29 percent from the floor with 20 turnovers. Coleman was the offensive goat, shooting 4 of 17 (though he did grab 21 rebounds). And demonstrating how the Nets prospective talent couldn’t match- up with the Knicks grit, New York’s heart and soul, Charles Oakley was the standout, scoring 25 points and grabbing 24 rebounds. The Nets had no answer for him, despite holding Patrick Ewing to a measly 11 points.
Game 3 saw the Nets pull out their one and only victory by the slimmest of margins, 93-92 in overtime. The team crossed the 40 percent threshold for the first time. Coleman and Anderson played well in the same game for the first time that series (Coleman finished with 25 points and 17 rebounds, Anderson 17 points and 11 assists). They kept turnovers down (11) and still needed some late game theatrics and luck to force overtime, getting outscore by the Knicks by a 20-9 margin in the 4th quarter.
The Knicks would ice the series the next game, having their best offensive performance in beating the Nets 102-92. The Nets played like a defeated team the whole game, trailing from the onset, shooting only 35 percent from the floor and getting dominated by Ewing who went off for 35 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks. Coleman once again led the way for the Nets with 31 points (hitting 21 of 25 free throws), but was seconded by just 12 points from Anderson. The Nets had their shot to become relevant and failed, and that failure would be accentuated the following two seasons when Daly resigned and the core players were broken up, leading to a downward spiral that save for the 97-98 regular season, saw a string of moribund seasons that would only be saved by the likes of Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin in the early 2000s. Of course by then, the Nets would finally get their postseason revenge on the Knicks, who had their own fall from grace that decade, but that series felt like Little Brother beating on a Big Brother with two broken legs and a concussion (not to mention a definitive lack of spine throughout New York’s organization).