Day 21 of our 30-team NBA playoff flashback profiles the New Jersey Nets. The Nets franchise has two ABA titles but has never won an NBA title, and has 10 playoff appearances since the 1991-92 season.
Date: May 25, 2002
Situation: The No. 1 New Jersey Nets and the No. 3 Boston Celtics are tied, 1-1, heading to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals
Context: In a remarkable turnaround, second-year head coach Byron Scott and the Nets doubled their win total from 2000-01 to 2001-02, finsihing 52-30, good for the best record in the East. Leading the turnaround was Jason Kidd. The Nets had acquired the All-Star point guard in the offseason in a package deal that sent Stephon Marbury to the Phoenix Suns. Kidd didn’t miss a beat with New Jersey, averaging 14.7 points, 9.9 assists and 7.3 rebounds. Kidd was one of seven Nets to average at least nine points per game during the regular season, a group that was led by Kenyon Martin (14.9) and Keith Van Horn (14.8). New Jersey’s stingy defense helped the Nets beat the Pacers, 3-2, in round one, and the Hornets, 4-1, in round two. (In the two series wins, the Nets allowed more than 90 points just five times in 10 games.) Next up were the Celtics. After cruising to a 104-97 win in Game 1, the Nets forfeited home court advantage in a 93-86 Game 2 loss, sending the series to Boston tied, 1-1.
Recap: The Nets looked all-but certain to bounce back with a Game 3 win, dominating through the first 36 minutes. New Jersey’s defense had handcuffed the Celtics, and through three quarters, the Nets held a 74-53 lead. Instead of cruising to the win, though, Paul Pierce orchestrated the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA playoff history. After missing 12 of his first 14 shots, Pierce scored 19 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. The Celtics proceeded to outscore New Jersey 41-16 in the fourth, moving ahead 2-1 in the series. New Jersey lost, 94-90.
Top players: Kerry Kittles led the Nets with 19 points. Jason Kidd had 12 points and 11 assists. Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 28 points on 8-for-15 shooting, including 12-for-15 from the line. Antoine Walker had 28 points and 12 rebounds. Boston shot 33-for-39 from the free throw line; the Nets shot just 11-for-18.
After the game: The Nets jumped out to another big lead in Game 4, up 31-18 after the first quarter. Boston again managed a come back, but New Jersey held on to even the series 2-2. The Nets then won Games 5 and 6 comfortably, sending the team to its first NBA Finals appearance. However, the Los Angeles Lakers overmatched New Jersey, and cruised to a sweep. New Jersey returned to the Finals the following year, only to lose to the Spurs in six games. Byron Scott was subsequently fired 42 games into the following season, and the Nets haven’t been past the Eastern Conference semis since, including five straight seasons of missing the playoffs.
Check back tomorrow for the Knicks.
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