One last chance for Nets' Pierce, Garnett
Conventional wisdom has it that Monday was the Nets' last stand, a chance to make things very interesting in their series against the Heat, and one they squandered in the final minute.
That would make the trip back to Miami for Game 5 tonight merely a contractual obligation to give TNT an extra game and LeBron James and friends a chance to take a few bows at home before moving on.
It is a difficult assumption to argue against for anyone who has followed the NBA for any amount of time, in my case since before the two coaches, Jason Kidd and Erik Spoelstra, were born. (Sigh.)
In situations such as this, the home team almost always wins Game 5, as the Heat has done every time it has been in this position since James arrived in 2010.
But just for the heck of it, let us consider a plausible alternative: that the Nets are just talented enough, and just ornery enough, to force the Heat back to Brooklyn for Game 6. Or at the very least to make them sweat.
As much as Paul Pierce and (especially) Kevin Garnett are diminished versions of their younger selves, as much as they annoy opposing players and fans and deal with the media only grudgingly, they still care, and they still command and deserve respect.
That was evident in their demeanors in the home locker room after Game 4, when perhaps they realized the end of their road was near.
Pierce, 36, battled James to the finish, with seven points and four rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, although his 0-for-3 on three-point tries in the final period hurt.
Afterward, the Nets made no effort to sugarcoat what had gone down, or the predicament in which it left them.
"Shoulda, coulda, wouldas won't help us at this point," said Garnett, who will turn 38 on Monday.
Owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who financed this expensive experiment, looked as grim as his players as he left Monday night wearing Nets sweats and a scowl.
But once the ball is put into play Wednesday night, the Nets might just surprise us, and themselves.
Remember, this is the team that went into Toronto in the first round and won a Game 7 on the road.
Also remember that unlike the young and rising Raptors, these patched-together Nets have nothing to build toward, only the present, which for now extends no further than 48 minutes in downtown Miami.
Sure, maybe all this will turn out to be a fantasy and the Heat will bulldoze the Nets like James on a drive through the paint. But if the Nets need inspiration, just imagine the scene in Brooklyn for a Game 6, with the stars out in force, and the place rocking like everyone involved hoped when the team made the move from Jersey.
It's possible. Isn't it?
"We understand what's at stake," Kidd said Tuesday on a conference call before flying to Miami. "It's Game 7 for us from here on out."
That's what they all say. But James' somewhat fragile Heat is not exactly Michael Jordan's Bulls.
If the Nets execute the difficult emotional trick of treating this as a chance rather than a chore, Pierce and Garnett still might just give LeBron something to remember them by.