They say hindsight is 20/20. In the case of the Brooklyn Nets, it's more like 30/6/3.
That's LeBron James' points-rebounds-assist slash line in four playoff games against Brooklyn, boosted by his 49-point outburst on Monday night that gave his Miami Heat a 3-1 series.
Now, with the Nets on the precipice of elimination, we can ask: Were we foolish to think Brooklyn would challenge James and Miami in the first place?
It's not that many picked Brooklyn to win the series—even hometown Nets fans tempered their optimism in deference to King James. But many figured the Nets would push the Heat to the limit and at least create an opportunity to steal the series.
Predictions the series would develop into a seven-game battle of the titans were probably influenced by the storm of excitement surrounding the matchup. Not only was there the usual fervor associated with a second-round postseason showdown between two big-market franchises, but a variety of other storylines developed as well.
First there was the fact the Nets swept the four regular-season contests, giving Heat haters hope the Nets were Miami's kryptonite. Mix in the established postseason rivalry between James and Brooklyn's Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett going back to the duo's tenure in Boston, and suddenly predictions for a tight series materialized merely out of the desire for spectacle.
But let's take a step back. The Miami Heat team in question here is a back-to-back champion and a major threat for a three-peat (the Heat have the best chance to win the NBA Finals this year according to most oddsmakers). While fans will endlessly debate where exactly James belongs in the pantheon of basketball legends, it's hard to argue he's not at least amongst the top five players of all time.
So going into the series, the Brooklyn Nets were up against an NBA great in his prime playing for a potential dynasty in the Miami Heat. And while the Brooklyn Nets had a well-documented resurgence in the second half of the season, the team still finished only six games above .500 in a terrible Eastern Conference.
Plus, by the time the postseason began, it appeared they had cooled off after a scorching January, February and April. Brooklyn went only 7-7 in its final 14 games. Perhaps the Nets peaked a touch early as the playoffs approached.
And, returning to the regular-season series, the Nets' four victories over the Heat, while exciting, were not entirely convincing. Dwyane Wade missed two of the games. One game went to double overtime after James fouled out. The final two games, both in Miami, came down to the very last possession, one of which included a controversial non-call on a failed dunk attempt by James.
If a few things went differently in those scenarios—a better pass, a blown whistle—the Heat could have easily won at least two of the contests.
The first round stands as more evidence that Brooklyn, while talented, simply isn't at the same level as Miami. The Heat torched the Charlotte Bobcats in a four-game sweep. Meanwhile, it took the Nets seven games to dispatch the young Toronto Raptors, their season saved only by a Pierce block in the final seconds of the last game.
Coming into this series, some figured the Nets' ability to spread the floor with lanky three-point shooters would cause trouble for Miami. That prognosis wasn't inaccurate: In the Nets' lone win in the series, they knocked down 15 treys as Miami's undersized unit struggled to guard the perimeter.
But in the other three games, the Nets have been doomed by lengthy offensive droughts. In Game 1, a four-minute stretch in the third quarter—during which the Nets made only one field goal—turned a 55-52 deficit into a 70-54 blowout. The same pattern was seen at the end of Games 2 and 4, turning close games into relatively comfortable Miami victories.
So maybe we overestimated these Nets and prescribed their offense a higher gear than it actually had. If Joe Johnson isn't creating decent looks for himself, this team stalls, especially with Deron Williams averaging less than 10 points per game in the series.
On the other side of the ball, it appears Miami has a higher level of lockdown defense than we realized. The Heat, who had the eighth-best fourth-quarter defense in the league during the regular season, have unleashed a late-game intensity that is stymying the Nets' one-dimensional offense.
Sometimes we forget how hungry this Miami squad can be. Despite several hiccups during the regular season, this team has an acute focus on a third title in a row, one that has become quite apparent in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
And, of course, basketball more than any other sport is a game often decided by which team has the best player. Pierce, Garnett, Johnson and Williams have all had their moments this season, and it was easy to get caught up in the magic of the 2014 Nets, an aging conglomeration of declining superstars.
But LeBron James overrides all of their title aspirations. He proved as much by single-handedly lifting the Heat on Monday night, and he seems prepared to oust all of our erroneous forecasts of a long, grueling series.
Then again, hindsight should only be referred to once an event is actually over. Miami still must win one more game to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, so let's not write the Nets' eulogy just yet.
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