The end is near for the Nets, who are down 3-0 in their first-round series playoff series against the defending NBA champion Raptors heading into Game 4 on Sunday night at Disney World in Orlando.
But if the Nets have one driving force in common from interim head coach Jacque Vaughn all the way through a roster depleted by illness, injuries and personal issues, it’s that most of them are “on the bubble” in terms of their careers and future with the organization.
Reciting Vaughn’s message at Saturday’s practice, veteran guard Garrett Temple said, “To have the courage to go out and do something that’s uncomfortable. Fight when the odds are against us, have the courage to focus on this one game and focus on winning this one game. Not worried about anything else, not worried about what may or may not happen, but focusing on this one game. Even if it’s not the natural human reaction, that’s what we need to do.”
Temple said the Nets can take pride in the 5-3 record they posted in the seeding games with a roster that includes several new players and has relied on many who were playing minor roles before the season paused in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we’ve done a good job of playing together, showing what good basketball looks like, showing what you can do as a team no matter how much of a deficit talent-wise you have,” Temple said. “Honestly, showing what Jacque Vaughn is able to do as a coach on this stage. He’s been tremendous. I can’t talk enough about what he’s done.”
Vaughn praised how players such as free agent Tyler Johnson and developmental project Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot have done in expanded roles. And he easily could have included the contributions backups Chris Chiozza and Jeremiah Martin, both of whom are on two-way contracts, have made in Orlando.
Assessing how the job those players and he have done in the NBA bubble might impact the Nets’ future roster and coaching decisions, Vaughn said, “I think it works hand in hand. We have a lot of time together. What are you doing with that time? How are you spending it with the performance team? How are you spending it with the players? How are you spending it with your coaching staff?
“I think you’re able to reveal the person that you are. There are numerous opportunities to be consistent and authentic in your approach. Those are the things you look forward to judge a guy by.”
The Nets signed Johnson, who had been waived by the Suns, and they have elevated him and Luwawu-Cabarrot into starting roles with positive results that suggest they have a future with the team even when injured superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving return next season.
“It’s interesting how things can change pretty quickly in this league,” Vaughn said. “Look at TLC, where he was to where he is now. Look at a guy like Tyler, the situation he was in. Things could have changed for him, and now he gets an opportunity he’s fully taken advantage of.”
Even though no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, the Nets know they are playing for something in Game 4. “It’s very important,” Temple said. “Just evaluating the playoffs in general, you never know when you’re going to get back, so, try to cherish these moments, not take them for granted.
“Some of the guys that have gotten their chance to play here in the bubble, I think the biggest thing is not taking for granted the time we have together, the time that we’re in right now and making the most of this moment.”