Disappointing end to first season in Brooklyn

Nets' Joe Johnson tries to get some space

Nets' Joe Johnson tries to get some space against the Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler in the first quarter of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. (May 4, 2013) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

The opportunity was ripe for the Nets to grow a tradition in Brooklyn. With the opening of Barclays Center, they began to reclaim the borough abandoned in 1958 by baseball's Dodgers when they moved to Los Angeles.

Saturday night, the Nets gave Brooklyn its first Game 7 experience since the Dodgers lost the finale of the 1956 World Series to the hated Yankees. The Nets did it by climbing out of a 3-1 hole to drag the Bulls back to the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

That was exciting stuff, the kind of thing that can galvanize a fledgling fan base. But facing an injury-ravaged Bulls team missing starters Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng, the Nets gave up 14 virtually uncontested layups or dunks on their way to a 17-point halftime deficit. Instead of embracing the moment and giving Brooklynites a reason to care about the team that bears their name, the Nets gave them a reason to boo.

They finally found enough offensive energy to get within four points late in the third quarter and again with 27 seconds left, but they couldn't hold off the gutty Bulls, who pulled out a 99-93 victory. Whatever dreams the Nets had of becoming the ninth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit, well, as the sign at the borough border says, "Fuhgeddaboutit."

Their weak effort gave credence to the Game 6 criticism from television commentator Charles Barkley, who said the Nets "lack passion" and are a "lackadaisical" team.

The shorthanded Bulls, on the other hand, were the definition of "heart and soul." Joakim Noah, who essentially guaranteed a Game 7 win on Friday, delivered an inspired performance with 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots despite playing with a painful case of plantar fasciitis.

Nets center Brook Lopez, who earned All-Star recognition this season, shouldered the lion's share of the blame. "I think they had more energy than us in the first half," said Lopez, who had 21 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. "They just outplayed us.

"We didn't really 'D-up' at all, and I think that falls back on me. It's my job to contest a lot of shots at the rim and back us up when we get beat. I just didn't do that tonight."

To a man, the Nets acknowledged their mysterious lack of passion in the first half. Interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said there was blame to go around for everyone, that Lopez was caught trying to help teammates on defense and no one had his back.

But the coach said, "We lost because of the way we didn't match their energy in the first half . . . We didn't defend enough."

Deron Williams, the superstar free agent who was first to sign up for the job of leading the Nets' move to Brooklyn, had a solid game with 24 points, including nine in the first quarter and nine in the fourth, along with seven assists. But his cool presence stood in contrast with the hot-blooded Noah, whom Williams acknowledged as a "warrior."

Williams admitted the painful truth identified by Barkley. Although he praised the Nets' resiliency, Williams said their first season in Brooklyn was most notable for the inconsistency of effort.

No doubt, their failure to defend the paint was the major reason for the energy drain in the first half.

"They got too many easy baskets," Williams said. "They beat us to too many loose balls and they got a lot of offensive rebounds. Noah was killing us on the boards. They came at us and we didn't match their intensity."

The Nets can't say they weren't warned beforehand. Carlesimo had praised their comeback to even the series but added, "It goes out the window if they don't finish the job."

The opportunity was there to grow a tradition in Brooklyn. Instead, the Nets succeeded only in reviving an old Dodgers refrain -- "Wait 'til next year."