There was a rush of enthusiastic and hopeful Nets fans on Monday evening that filled the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, there to see their team face the Boston Celtics down 3-0 in their opening round Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.
The night ended in disappointment as the Nets were swept in four games by Celtics, the series ending with a 116-112 loss, eliminating them from the playoffs. Entering this season the Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers were the favorites to make it to the finals representing the Eastern and Western Conference respectively.
The Lakers didn’t qualify for the playoffs, finishing 33-49 and 11th in the West. The Nets, who led the East for much of the early part of the season, went 44-38 to end the regular season and wound up as the 7th seed. It put them in the Play-In Tournament having to earn their way into the first round of the playoffs.
Mired in dysfunction and a lack of continuity throughout the season, the Nets proved they weren’t up to the task of defeating the rising Celtics in a series. Boston was bigger, stronger, longer and more athletic under first-year head coach Ime Udoka. You could make the case they were the best team in the NBA since the beginning of January and it showed in their domination of the Nets. One year has made a difference as last May the Celtics lost to the Nets 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs.
The Celtics’ next-level physical defense blanketed Nets superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and didn’t allow the role players to make the needed contributions for the Nets to successfully close out games. And with All-Star forward Ben Simmons, who was acquired by the Nets in a package that sent former Brooklyn guard James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers, unable to play due to lingering issues with a herniated disk in his back, the Nets didn’t have the bodies to counter the Celtics’ talent and depth, especially their spectacular young duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Simmons did not play a single game this season either for the Sixers or the Nets.
“I know so many people wanted to see us fail at this juncture. Pick us as contenders and have so much to say at this point,” said Nets guard Kyrie Irving after Monday’s loss. Irving, who can opt out of his contract with the Nets this summer, has been heavily criticized by many fans and members of the media for the team’s failures due to him missing most of the season because of his refusal to be vaccinated. He didn’t play his first home game until March 27 after parts of New York City’s COVID-19 restrictions were rolled back.
But Durant said the reason for the series defeat is simple. ”A lot of stuff that may factor into why we lose, but they were just a better team,” he explained after scoring 39 points in his last game of the season.
Now the Nets’ key members, team owner Joe Tsai, general manager Sean Marks, Nash, Durant, Irving and Simmons will have a long off-season to deal with what went wrong and come back on the same page.