Brooklyn Nets: Charting the Course of a Season
The Nets navigated ups and downs to 42 wins and a playoff berth
The NBA season has its own milestones, the dates and markers that serve as somewhat arbitrary markers to segment the season. Christmas and New Year's. All-Star Weekend and the trade deadline.
We're going to take a look back at the Brooklyn Nets season using the signposts the team set, with the swings and changes in fortune that defined their year.
It's easy to look at the Nets on Dec. 6 and say "8-18." But this first block of the season, the one that left them 10 games under .500, really comes in two pieces. On Friday, Nov. 9, the Nets were 6-6 after Caris LeVert's game-winner in Denver. The next night, they lost 116-100 to defending champion Golden State on night two of a back-to-back. Two nights later, LeVert dislocated his foot in Minnesota and ended up sidelined for three months. In the first 12 games without LeVert, the Nets went 2-10, including eight straight losses that left them 8-18. Three of the 10 losses came by two points each. A fourth came in overtime. Fourth-quarter leads routinely evaporated. It wasn't as bad as it looked in the standings. But the standings were what counted.
Was it the players-only film session? Was it a simple turn of the odds, in that over the course of the season the results in close games eventually even out a bit? Or were the Nets never actually playing that poorly to begin with?
You can call it all of the above, but the bottom line was the Nets needed a win to turn the tide and they got it against the Toronto Raptors of all teams, a 106-05 victory on Dec. 7. From that date through March 11, the Nets posted a 28-15 record, a .651 winning percentage over 43 games that translates to a 53-win pace over a full season.
This was where D'Angelo Russell played his way into the All-Star Game, where rookie Rodions Kurucs emerged, and where the Nets went deep into the roster to consistently overcome adversity and injuries beyond that to LeVert.
The stretch began with a seven-game win streak and included a six-game win streak in January as well. It closed with four straight wins up through the 103-75 rout of Detroit on March 11, giving Brooklyn a 36-33 record. And then they hit the road.
THE ROAD TRIP
The bottom line of Brooklyn's seven-game, 17-day road trip was a 2-5 record that left the Nets even at .500 with a 38-38 record. There was so much more to it than that. Brooklyn put itself in position to win two, even three other games. The Nets could have gone 4-3. Instead, it took a historic comeback to keep the trip from being catastrophic.
They opened in Oklahoma City and went up by 17 in the first half before fading, then lost in Utah. Against the Clippers, the Nets went up by 19, fell behind by 11, tied the game with 10 straight points in the final minute, then lost on a buzzer-beater.
And then they went to Sacramento.
In terms of hopeless NBA scenarios, you won't find something much worse than trailing by 25 going into the fourth quarter. In more than 3,000 such games in NBA history, only two teams had come back to win. When the Nets became the third, Kenny Atkinson was surprised they weren't the first.
Atkinson dug into the bench for a scrambling five-man unit made up of D'Angelo Russell and four power forwards. Russell handled most of the scoring until Rondae Hollis-Jefferson flipped in the game-winner on a drive to cap Brooklyn's 45-18 fourth quarter.
The Nets followed with a win over the Lakers, took the Trail Blazers to two overtimes in a 148-144 loss, then ended the journey with a loss in Philadelphia.
THE CLOSING STRETCH
The final six games — four at home — looked almost as daunting as the seven on the road, with five games against the Eastern Conference's top five, including league-leading Milwaukee twice. When the Nets lost back-to-back games against the Bucks and Raptors, they were 39-40 and in a precarious spot with a weekend back-to-back on the docket.
It was fitting then, that the team that came back from 8-18, staged epic comeback wins on the road in Houston, Orlando, and Sacramento, and weathered one injury after another, went on the road and beat the Bucks and Pacers to clinch the franchise's first playoff berth since 2015.
They came back to Brooklyn for the regular-season finale with their playoff berth in hand and the sixth seed up for grabs. The Heat had been eliminated the night before, making Dwyane Wade’s final career game a celebration for all. Wade went out with a triple-double in 36 minutes, and the Nets won 113-94 to finish 42-40 and set up a first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Well, this started out nicely. The Nets went down to Philadelphia and won Game 1 as D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert combined for 49 points. Ed Davis scored 12 points and grabbed 16 points, helping hold Sixers center Joel Embiid in check a bit as the Nets took a 111-102 win.
But Embiid was dominant in Game 2, and the Sixers won without him in Brooklyn in Game 3. The Nets held a seven-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 4, but couldn’t hold off Embiid down the stretch. Trailing 3-1, they went back to Philly for Game 5, where the Sixers cruised to close out the series.
LeVert closed the season the way he started, continuing his late-season surge into the playoffs in averaging 21.0 points against the Sixers while shooting 49.3 percent overall and 46.2 percent from 3-point range and averaging 4.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
Catch the Brooklyn Nets this Season