MIAMI - Call it the curse of the optimist. But I still hold out hope for the Brooklyn Nets.
Go ahead, I’ll pause while you snicker.
I’ll consent to the psych evaluation, if that would make you happy.
I know the facts as well as you. The Nets are in a 3-1 hole to the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat, who can close out the Nets Wednesday night in AmericanAirlines Arena.
With all due respect to Kevin Durant, the MVP of all MVPs is not on the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s on the Miami Heat. He has two rings. He will tell you he believes he has a higher calling.
LeBron James was the unstoppable force Monday night in the Heat’s 102-96 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, scoring 49 points, making the key assist, playing great defense down the stretch.
Got it. Got it. And got it.
So why hold out hope? Why still believe in a mini-miracle?
Because although the Nets don’t have a player that can match up with James – no NBA team does - they have a better and deeper team, one that understands all the steps in this playoff dance.
"Just one," forward Paul Pierce said after the Game 4 loss. "We've just got to get one game. That's the mindset.
“The series is far from over. We've got to go down there, try to get one game and force the series back at home."
That’s what we hold out hope for. Forget the daunting task of winning three straight. Win one.
Force the Heat to return to Brooklyn, where Monday night Barclays Center experienced a seminal moment:
On Monday night, Nets fans set a new standard. They represented in force and with passion.
They arrived early, stayed late and were so loud the building’s remarkable cleaning crew might have found a lung or two after Game 4.
Yes, it was that loud, especially when they gave the basketball cathedral on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues a Barclays Premier League game feel.
We hear the Heat were mocking the Brooklyn fans after the game. Their sarcastic chant of, "I Believe That We Will Win," reverberated around the visiting team locker room.
No worries. You win, you can cheer and chant and pound your chest. Bottom line, the Heat executed better than the Nets down the stretch.
But if James didn’t have one of the great playoff games of his career, if he didn’t tie his playoff record with those 49 points, if he didn’t post the most points in the playoffs since he joined the Heat, the game is over before those final three fateful possessions.
So here’s the question: As great as he was in Game 4 - and when you bear witness to the greatness that James was Monday night you cannot deny it but you can ask - can he put forth that effort and have that success in consecutive games?
Again, we are not thinking about a Game 6 or 7. We’re thinking of Wednesday night. And we’re asking one question:
Can James be the force in Game 5 that he was in Game 4? Can anyone?
Because if he can’t, then the Nets have every reason to believe this series can return to Brooklyn.
The Nets outrebound the Heat, 40-33. They shared the ball better – 22 assists on 34 field goals compared to 14 assists on 37 baskets for Miami. They had an edge in points in the paint, 44-42.
So the series stands at 3-1 and everyone from Midwood to Miami is talking about James. Fair enough, but consider this:
The Rangers trailed the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 and Tuesday night there’s a Game 7 in Western Pennsylvania. The Penguins have the best player in hockey, one of the best ever, in Sidney Crosby, who led the NHL with 104 points this season.
Yet Crosby and Co. have had two chances to close out the Rangers and haven’t. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
We’re not talking about Game 7. We’re talking about Game 5. We’re talking about James being exhausted and really, does the rest of this Miami Heat team look as potent as the ones we saw in 2012 and 2013?
“We’re going to start with one game in Miami, and take it one game at a time, one possession at a time,” said point guard Deron Williams. “That’s all we can do.”
It just might be enough to win Game 5.