Brooklyn Nets Ready to Thrive Best with Backs Against the Wall

Thomas DuffyFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2014

MIAMI, FL - May 8: Joe Johnson #7 of the Brooklyn Nets during a game against the Miami Heat in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2014 NBA playoffs at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on May 8, 2014. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright NBAE 2014 (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Brooklyn Nets are not dead.

Despite falling into a two-game hole against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Nets still have a pulse. A faint one, perhaps, but there’s still life in Brooklyn.

Across the board, the Nets have been terrible this series. Kevin Garnett has totaled four points (I repeat, four points), Deron Williams dropped a goose egg in Game 2, and Paul Pierce has looked downright old. With performances like that, it’s no surprise that Miami currently sits with a comfortable 2-0 series lead.

But throughout this season, the Nets have proven time and time again that they fight best with their backs against the wall.

This series isn’t over.


Regular-season turnaround

February 23, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd watches game action against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when the Nets were the biggest disappointment in NBA history?

Good times.

The most expensive roster ever assembled stumbled out of the gate and went 10-21 to begin the season. As the criticism continued to pile on, and the injuries kept raining down from the inexplicably angry basketball gods, Brooklyn looked like it was done.

But then New Year’s came and something clicked. The Nets finally became the team that they were supposed to be all along.

MIAMI, FL - MAY 8: Mirza Teletovic #33 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots the ball against the Miami Heat during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2014 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on May 8, 2014.  NOTE TO USER: Us
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The Nets finished the regular season with the second-best record in the East after Jan. 1, as rookie sideline general Jason Kidd—who, in early November, was dubbed by ESPN’s David Thorpe as the “worst coach in the NBA”—brought home multiple Coach the Month awards.

Now, the playoffs are an entirely different animal than the regular season. But Brooklyn’s stark turnaround from laughingstock to legitimate playoff team proved that this isn’t a group that will simply wilt in the face of adversity.

"Our mind is positive, and we know we can beat this team at home,” Mirza Teletovic, who dropped a team-high 20 points against Miami in Game 2, told USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt.

Joe Johnson added that "this series is far from over." And he's absolutely right.

LeBron James and Co. did what they were supposed to do, taking care of business on their home floor.

Now it’s Brooklyn’s turn.


Display of heart against Toronto

Apr 25, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson (7) advances the ball during the fourth quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center. Brooklyn Nets won 102-98.  Mandatory

Faced with a similar situation against the Toronto Raptors last series, the Nets stuck together and willed out a first-round victory.

Down 3-2, Brooklyn handled Toronto at the Barclays Center in Game 6 and then closed out to the third-best team in the East in front of a raucous crowd at the Air Canada Center two days later.

Prior to Game 7, the Raptors had looked like the better team for the majority of the series—and even then, it took a last-second block from Pierce to salvage a 104-103 victory.

Against a resilient, youthful Toronto team, Brooklyn did what it's done all year: fight.

Aside from Johnson’s 24 points in Game 1, every other game-high point total came from a Raptors player. But the Nets still somehow found ways to win.

Miami is not Toronto. This time around, the Nets are down 2-0 to a team that is seeking its third straight NBA title and has yet to lose a game this postseason.

But the circumstances don’t change the kind of team that Brooklyn is. By no means is this some sort of guarantee that the Nets, who swept the regular season series against Miami, will beat the Heat in seven.

But while the Nets may have hit the mat, the 10-count is far from up. Expect Brooklyn to come out swinging in Games 3 and 4 at home and make this thing interesting.


Pierce, Garnett Effect

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25:  Kevin Garnett #2 of the Brooklyn Nets celebrates with teammate Paul Pierce #34 in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Barclays C
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Pierce and Garnett are not going to win this series for Brooklyn. Pierce has been inconsistent and unable to make much of a difference on the offensive end, and KG has been essentially invisible.

But their value doesn’t lie solely on the court.

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 18: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat advances the ball against Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics on March 18, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading an
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Back in 2012, the Boston Celtics fell into a similar 2-0 predicament to the Heat in the conference finals. But instead of rolling over, Pierce and Garnett won three straight and eventually forced a Game 7.

The Heat escaped and went on to the NBA Finals, but Boston proved that Miami isn’t bulletproof.

Granted, that was three years and two championships ago, but the point that Pierce and KG must continue to preach in the locker room remains the same: We can do this. It's possible. Believe us—we’ve done it before.

Garnett, understandably frustrated with how he’s playing, isn’t giving up, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

I’m not happy with my play right now. I’m trying to get in a flow and a rhythm. Try to bring something. It’s just frustrating. But I’ll grind through it.

(I’ll) continue to work. Continue to find ways to be aggressive offensively. Continue to look for opportunities. Rebound the ball. And continue to talk and inspire.

It’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. But if Pierce and Garnett can hammer home a rallying message, the Nets have a fighter’s chance.

Miami still remains the clear favorite here, but don’t write Brooklyn off prematurely. The Nets have displayed their heart countless times throughout the entire regular season, as well as the playoffs.

They’ve come too far to give up now.


All stats and information are accurate as of May 9 courtesy of unless otherwise noted.