2003 Eastern Conference Champions

Rising to unprecedented expectations, the Nets returned to the NBA Finals

In their 40 NBA seasons, there’s never been a year quite like 2002-03 for the Nets.

Coming off their first conference championship and NBA Finals appearance, boasting their first returning All-NBA First Team honoree in point guard Jason Kidd, the Nets took the court in the fall of 2002 with anticipation and expectations unseen since the heady ABA days of Dr. J soaring around Nassau Coliseum.

There were changes from the 50-win 2002 team. Forward Keith Van Horn and center Todd MacCulloch were dealt to Philadelphia for center Dikembe Mutombo, opening up a starting spot for second-year forward Richard Jefferson.

While the regular season was more uneven than the prior year — a December/January 10-game win streak was followed by a 4-10 stretch following the All-Star break — the Nets peaked in the playoffs.

After finishing 49-33 and seeded second in the Eastern Conference playoffs, they beat the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the first round, then swept the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons. That sent the Nets back into the NBA Finals on a 10-game win streak.

Facing the San Antonio Spurs, the Nets took Game 2 on the road, 87-85, behind 30 points from Kidd to take a 1-1 tie back to New Jersey. After dropping Game 3, they pulled out another tight win in Game 4. Kenyon Martin had 20 points and 13 rebounds, Jefferson had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Kidd posted a 16-9-8 line in a 77-76 win.

But with a chance to take a series lead in Game 5 at home, the Nets lost 93-83 despite 29 points, seven assists and seven rebounds from Kidd. Back in San Antonio, the Nets looked primed to force Game 7 with a fourth-quarter lead. But Tim Duncan’s 20-20 game denied the Nets their first NBA title as the Spurs clinched with an 88-77 win.

Kidd was named to the All-NBA Second Team after averaging 18.7 points, 8.9 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. The young forward tandem of Martin and Jefferson continued to blossom. Martin, in his third year, averaged 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds while Jefferson, elevated to the starting lineup, finished with averages of 15.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

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