For a team that always seems to be searching for an identity, this was not a great way to establish a new one. Unless something really crazy happens in the next week, the Nets' season basically went down in flames Saturday, and it is those flames that will define the season. Just their luck.
They did bring some heat this time. They seemed to gain a spark when Nate Robinson went after C.J. Watson in the second quarter, wrestling the Nets guard into the scorers table. Ultimately, though, it was Robinson who torched them with a phenomenal finish, the kind of ending that the Nets rarely seem to achieve for themselves.
You know how it has been for the Nets: they always have been on the wrong side of the Hudson or East River, the wrong side of a rivalry. In Game 4 against the Bulls on Saturday, they were on the wrong side of history, if you buy the concept that a triple-overtime game that lasted three minutes short of four hours and totaled 276 points is historic.
In any case, the Nets sure were on the wrong side of a 142-134 score, and are now on the wrong side of the series ledger that stands three games to one.
"It was a great basketball game. It was a killer, but we've got to focus on Monday," said interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who quite possibly lost any chance of becoming the full-time coach with the way the Nets blew a 14-point lead with less than four minutes left in regulation. Conventional wisdom has been saying that he needs a win in this series for a shot at getting the gig. That does not appear likely now.
Maybe it would have been more palatable if the Nets had played poorly, but they played a generally good game, and still they didn't have enough to close it. Without a biblical-caliber comeback in three games beginning Monday, their first season in Brooklyn will be remembered for Saturday.
"We still have a chance," said Joe Johnson, the one Net who proved super clutch, making a basket that tied the first overtime at the buzzer, and completing a three-point play that kept them alive with 1:13 to go in the second overtime.
But the chance faded in a big hurry. They looked like the same old star-crossed, snake-bitten, underachieving Nets who have bounced from home to home to home in the past 46 years. For a while, Saturday seemed different. They showed heart and guts, especially after Robinson tackled Watson.
"That's in his character, so it doesn't surprise me," Watson said.
But Robinson, the former Knick, has thick skin and an iron will, not unlike that of former Net John Williamson. Robinson scored 23 points in the fourth quarter, seeming unstoppable by Watson and then Deron Williams.
"I'm a fierce competitor," Robinson said. "I tease my teammates a lot. I tell them I think I'm on fire. I feel like that at times -- all the time, whenever I'm in a game. You've got to allow yourself to feel like you can't miss. You do that, and things change."
Jason Kidd used to be like that when he was a Net and led them to two NBA Finals in one of their brief brushes with success. You have to wonder what New York basketball would have looked like this year had the Nets signed Kidd to back up Williams. Maybe it was impossible salary cap-wise, but Kidd would have been great to tie the past and future. He would have helped strengthen the brand and establish that long-sought identity.
If nothing else, the Nets sure could have used a steady, encouraging head down the stretch Saturday. They needed somebody to make a big free throw, make a big defensive stop and make a layup instead of missing a dunk (Watson) as the dispirited home fans were streaming toward the exits. That somebody didn't have a Brooklyn uniform on.
The Nets still technically have a chance to win this series, if they have a miracle in them. If not, they will be known again for fizzle instead of fire.