2002 Eastern Conference Champions
Spurred by the arrival of Jason Kidd, the Nets made their first NBA Finals appearance
The 2001-02 season was a transformational year for the Nets franchise, and it all began with the mid-summer trade for point guard Jason Kidd.
In addition to Kidd, guard Kerry Kittles returned to action after missing the 2000-01 season with a knee injury, center Todd MacCulloch signed as a free agent, rookie Richard Jefferson was acquired in a draft-night trade, and forward Kenyon Martin came into his second season after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2000.
After winning just 26 games in 2000-01, the Nets quickly showed things had changed by winning seven of their first eight games in 2001-02. A six-game win streak in January put them in firm control of the Atlantic Division.
On April 9, 2002 they beat the Washington Wizards 101-88 to reach the 50-win milestone for the first time in their NBA history and finished 52-30, doubling their win total of the year before.
A free-flowing, balanced offense defined the Nets. Martin led the team in scoring with 14.9 points per game, followed by Keith Van Horn (14.8), Kidd (14.7) and Kittles. Kidd also averaged 9.9 assists per game and 7.3 rebounds per game, finishing second in the MVP voting and earning All-NBA first team honors, along with a spot on the All-Defensive first team.
The breakthrough season was pushed to the limit in the first round of the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers. Reggie Miller twice tied the decisive Game 5 in the final seconds to push the Nets and the Pacers into a second overtime. The Nets outscored Indiana 13-2 in the second OT for the series-clinching 120-109 win. Kidd scored 31 points with seven assists and eight rebounds, Martin had 29 points and eight boards, and Van Horn scored 27 points while making 5-of-8 3-pointers.
The Nets went on to beat the Charlotte Hornets in five games and the Boston Celtics in six, winning the last three games after falling behind 2-1. Six Nets scored in double figures in the clinching 96-88 win, with a crucial 3-pointer from Van Horn with 50 seconds remaining.
“Everyone on this team had something to prove, to themselves, to the other guys in the league,” said Van Horn. “We all just kind of played with a chip on our shoulders. This team has proved people wrong.”
The conference title sent the Nets to the NBA Finals for the first time, where they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in four games.
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