It could have been a very different evening at Barclays Center on Wednesday night when the Brooklyn Nets hosted the Miami Heat in the final game of the regular season. Playoff fates could have been on the line for one or both teams, maybe even at the expense of the other.
Instead, it was a sold-out lovefest, the Brooklyn crowd playing its part in a generous farewell to the future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade while their home team cruised to a 113-94 win that clinched the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference for the upcoming playoffs.
“It still crossed my mind today,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson before the game. “And yesterday. I think we were gearing up for this game, I was preparing ahead of time. We all felt it was going to come down to this game. And I don’t think the players wanted that, quite honestly. I think that was part of our motivation and our raising our level of play against Milwaukee and Indiana. You’ll have to ask them that; that was my personal take. They wanted to take care of it before having to deal with a winner-advance, loser-go-home situation.”
The wins over Milwaukee and Indiana on the road last weekend secured Brooklyn’s playoff spot. A Detroit win on Tuesday eliminated the Heat while Wade was scoring 30 points and being celebrated in his last home game.
With a win to clinch the sixth seed, the Nets played it down the middle. Joe Harris and DeMarre Carroll were out on the injured list, and Jared Dudley was rested. D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs and Spencer Dinwiddie all played short minutes. It was enough, thanks largely to a Russell shooting spree that netted seven 3-pointers before he watched the fourth quarter.
It got the Nets to 42 wins, a 14-game leap over last season’s 28-win total that got them back to the playoffs after three empty springs.
“Never envisioned it,” said Atkinson. “Not in my wildest dreams. And I told the players that. Your coach didn’t believe it until we really got deep in the season and it was right there in front of my nose. I think it’s one of those special years. I think it’s one of those, and I know you guys have wrote and talked a lot about it, but it’s true. It’s a great story of a group of guys that exceeded expectations. Besides winning a championship, those are the beautiful things, that’s the greatest thing about sports, that you can beat the odds and if you have a good group of guys that have great chemistry.”
“Could I have imagined that? It’s tough. It’s tough to know,” said Russell, whose breakout All-Star season fueled the Brooklyn resurgence. “You never know what the season’s gonna pan out as with injuries and whatever may happen. We stayed locked in the whole season. Guys stepped up, next man mentality whenever anything happened, and we were well-coached throughout the process as well.”
In truth, these Nets covered far more ground than those 14 wins. Atkinson inherited a 21-win team and won 20 games his first year. Caris LeVert was a rookie on the team with the league’s worst record.
Two years removed from the end of that season, the Nets are headed for the playoffs. LeVert said no, he wasn’t surprised at how fast it came together.
“Not really. We’re around the group every single day,” said LeVert. “We know we’ve got the right guys on the team, play the right way. We knew it was a matter of time before we started winning games. Even going back to my rookie year, we were in a lot of games late. We lost them. Last year as well. This year, beginning of the season, same thing. We knew we were knocking on the door. It feels good to finally get some of those wins and be where we’re at right now.”
“I would say, not ahead of schedule, way ahead of schedule,” said Atkinson. “I was expecting year four, year five, that’s when we’ll start being in the playoff mix. I don’t know. Like I said, I think it’s a special, special year, special moment and very proud as an organization that we’ve come this far in a short time.”
Published at Thu, 11 Apr 2019 04:17:05 +0000