NBA playoffs 2022 – Why these Brooklyn Nets have been the best group that by no means was

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Mike D’Antoni was watching the Brooklyn Nets’ season-ending loss to the Boston Celtics on Monday night time from his front room in Austin, Texas, a world away from the drama his protégé, Nets coach Steve Nash, had simply lived by way of.

A 12 months in the past, D’Antoni had been on the Nets’ bench alongside Nash because the two-time MVP coached what’s going to go down as one of many best groups that by no means was to inside a shoe dimension of the Japanese Convention finals.

9 years in the past, D’Antoni had been on the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench for one more notoriously star-crossed season, when Nash, Kobe Bryant, Paul Gasol and Dwight Howard flopped their method to a first-round sweep.

However this 12 months, this Nets season, was like nothing D’Antoni had ever seen.

“The state of affairs was simply so unusual,” he stated. “Once you throw all of the issues that occurred to them this 12 months … after which having to battle for his or her lives for a month simply to get into the play-in recreation … I do not assume it is odd that they struggled.”

After it was throughout Monday night time in Brooklyn, Nash and the Nets’ superstars took their turns on the lectern, making comparable allusions to the off-the-court drama that overwhelmed the Nets this season and left them exhausted on each stage by the top of it.

Kyrie Irving referred to as it “being the polarization of the media scrum” and “noise.”

Kevin Durant referenced a scarcity of “continuity.”

Nash spoke instantly about “all these issues off the ground” and the way they affected the group on the court docket.

“Our guys wore down,” Nash stated. “They’re drained.”

The ultimate minutes of Monday’s recreation introduced all of it to the fore.

With 2:45 to go, and Boston main 109-103, Brooklyn caught a large break when referee Sean Wright referred to as the sixth foul on Celtics star Jayson Tatum.

On the subsequent play, a resurgent Blake Griffin muscled a key offensive rebound over Boston’s Al Horford, resulting in an Irving 3-pointer that lower the result in three factors. When Durant stole the ball from Jaylen Brown and hit a 14-foot floater to chop the result in one with 1:28 to go, it appeared the momentum had swung towards Brooklyn.

However as a substitute of salvation, the Nets discovered extra exasperation in a season outlined by it.

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Kevin Durant reacts to how the Nets’ season ended and whether or not or not Steve Nash is the best coach for the group going ahead.

Durant missed back-to-back 3-pointers and a key free throw, Irving did not field out Horford on an offensive rebound and putback after Griffin had stored Marcus Sensible from changing a fast-break layup, and all that was left to do on the recreation’s finish was shake fingers and credit score the superior group on a collection sweep.

Afterward, Durant was requested if he had any regrets in regards to the season, the collection or the sport.

“No regrets,” he shrugged. “S— occurs. We have been by way of rather a lot this 12 months. Everybody within the group is aware of what we have been by way of.”

Durant began to listing the issues which have occurred to the Nets this season, however he shortly misplaced curiosity within the recap: Irving’s battles with town of New York over its vaccine mandate, the James Harden commerce, the uncertainty over Ben Simmons’ again damage in addition to his psychological well being, a COVID-19 outbreak, accidents, a scarcity of consistency and most manifestly, camaraderie that proved not possible to develop.

“I want we have been extra wholesome as a gaggle,” Durant stated. “I want we had extra continuity as a gaggle. However that is simply the league. Each group goes by way of that.”

He appeared each bored with speaking in regards to the drama and tired of making excuses. Apart from his accidents, Durant had been the Nets’ most constant participant.

Solely he is aware of how a lot of a bodily and psychological toll it took on him. Monday night time he wasn’t within the temper to confess to any fatigue or use that heavy load as an excuse.

Nash, nevertheless, was blunt.

“Over the course of the season,” Nash stated. “There have been simply too many [things].” In some ways the basketball world carried out a season-long post-mortem on what went mistaken for the Nets.

However the premise of these analyses is flawed.

It is not what went mistaken for the Nets, or what occurred to them. It is in regards to the choices that allowed these team- and culture-shattering issues to exist within the first place.

Whether or not or not it’s Harden quitting on the group and asking to be traded midseason, Irving being unable to play in video games in New York Metropolis and Toronto resulting from his vaccination standing, and even Simmons’ resolution to pressure a commerce from Philadelphia after final season and drawn out a “ramp-up” course of to play once more, which by no means got here to fruition.

The Nets’ administration and possession have tried to help their stars all through the season. Usually, celebrity gamers admire that sort of respect. However outdoors of Durant, the Nets’ superstars didn’t make good on the deference they have been proven, and that is an issue for a group constructed as a star system.

Simply assume how a lot time and vitality the Nets wasted on off-the-court points that might have been spent on basketball. What number of hours have been spent discussing Irving’s vaccination standing? How a lot vitality was spent deliberating on what to do with Harden? What number of hours have been spent deciding whether or not Simmons would play in Sport 4, relatively than how the Nets have been going to regulate to the Celtics’ swarming protection?

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Kyrie Irving admits his standing was a distraction to the Nets this season and stays adamant he’ll return to Brooklyn within the fall.

Irving alluded to the toll and his duty in it after the sport.

“It was simply actually heavy emotionally this season,” he stated. “I felt like I used to be letting the group down at a degree the place I wasn’t in a position to play.

“I by no means need it to be about me, however I really feel prefer it turned a distraction at occasions.” Irving then reaffirmed the facility he and Durant have been given inside the group.

“After I say I am right here with Kev, that entails us managing this franchise collectively — alongside Joe and Sean,” stated Irving, who was referring to Nets proprietor Joe Tsai and normal supervisor Sean Marks.

“We have to actually be intentional about what we’re constructing.”

Irving spoke of his motivation to construct a greater group and tradition subsequent season, and never simply counting on particular person efficiency because the Nets so usually needed to this 12 months. However he was clearly talking as a star who has been absolutely empowered by his franchise, which is nice when issues work out however uncomfortable once they finish as badly because the Nets’ season did.

If that sounds acquainted, it’s.

The West Coast model of the Nets — the Lakers — fizzled out in a lot the identical method this season.

It is ironic for a coach akin to Nash, who made a reputation for himself as a participant in a system as democratic as D’Antoni’s “Seven seconds or much less” Phoenix Suns, and a normal supervisor like Marks, who was reared within the San Antonio Spurs’ tradition hive, to have constructed a group like this.

Like everybody else, they’ll every replicate on what they may have and will have finished otherwise. Then they’ll attempt all of it once more subsequent season, hoping the teachings from this season will matter.

“The robust half is all of us grew an amazing quantity, we simply weren’t in a position to profit from it this 12 months,” Nash stated postgame. “To have gone by way of the whole lot we went by way of this 12 months, to say goodbye is hard. As a result of we fought arduous to remain collectively.”

Nash is correct. The Nets fought. They simply weren’t at all times preventing the opponents on the ground.

D’Antoni, for his half, nonetheless has religion in Brooklyn’s superstar-laden roster.

“You have not seen something of what they will do,” D’Antoni stated. “It must have an opportunity. But it surely’s New York, and New York is, ‘What have you ever finished for me yesterday?’

“Hopefully they’re going to be capable to get that.”

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