Nets sweep at last
The early 2000s were a half-decade of smooth sailing for the New Jersey Nets; Knicks fans were in despair about their own franchise while the Nets had their rock-solid lineup anchored by Jason Kidd. However, that didn’t stop the two teams from facing off once in the playoffs: in 2004, the second-seeded 47-35 Nets took on the seventh-seeded 39-43 Knicks. The Nets boasted one of the league’s best defensive squads that year, even after firing Byron Scott midseason (who allegedly was run out of town by Kidd) and hiring Lawrence Frank — in fact, the Nets won their first 13 games under Frank’s tutelage. Incidentally, Frank would then lose his last seventeen games as a Nets coach in 2009 as they caught the 12-70 bug.
But before that atrocity, the Nets did have a playoff shot to take from New York — and take it they did. After losing the first two playoff matchups in 1983 and 1994, the 2004 series proved an entirely different animal.
It was clear as soon as Game 1 which of these two teams was the superior franchise: with ex-Net Stephon Marbury leading the Knicks, the team shot just 38% from the field and turned the ball over 16 times against the Nets’ patented stingy defense, while the Nets performed in classic blowout fashion en route to a 107-83 victory. Five players in double figures, led by Richard Jefferson with 21 and Kerry Kittles with 20, a 14-point, 13-assist night from Kidd, and an efficient double-double from rock Kenyon Martin. Every Nets player had a positive plus-minus, every Knick a negative one. It was just that kind of game.
Game 2 wasn’t much different. The Nets never had much of a home-court advantage in BrendanContinentalIzod CenterArena, but the same story gave the same result: the Marbury-led Knicks struggled, shooting just 34% in Game 2 with 18 turnovers, the Nets took a commanding 2-0 lead with a breezy 99-81 victory that wasn’t in much doubt by halftime. The Nets stuck to the formula: five players in double figures, this time led by Kenyon Martin who had a huge game (22 points and 16 boards), another 20 from Richard Jefferson, a Jason Kidd triple-double watch game (15 points, 8 assists, 6 boards), and the Nets overcame 23 turnovers by shooting 54% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc to nail down another victory.
With the series swinging back to Madison Square Garden, the next two games were a different challenge. Game 3 was a much closer affair than the first two, as the Nets let a 12-point fourth quarter lead dwindle to one with 42 seconds left as Anfernee Hardaway, Stephon Marbury, and Nazr Mohammad hit shots and made stops. The Nets hung on, thanks to a big late three-point play by Kenyon Martin (set up by — who else — Jason Kidd), and escaped with an 81-78 victory and a 3-0 lead.
No team in the NBA has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, and though the Knicks had a shot to send it to game five, they didn’t make it painful. But Kenyon Martin sure did. Martin put up one of the best games of his career in the series-clinching Game 4, monstering his way to the tune of 36 points (13 in the close fourth quarter) on 13-19 shooting and 13 rebounds. Jason Kidd added 20 (half from the free throw line), eight rebounds, and seven assists, and the Nets finished the sweep of the Knicks 100-94.
The Nets would go on to lose in the second round in a seven-game heartbreaker to the eventual NBA Champion Detroit Pistons. But for some time, it was clear that in the New York Metro Area, one team reigned supreme… and it wasn’t the one in Manhattan.