Nets Proud of Pushing Hawks in Six-Game Series But Disappointed in Being Eliminated

BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets went into their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks as prohibitive underdogs.

They were the No.8 seed, having qualified for the playoffs on the final night of the regular season. The Hawks, owners of the best regular-season record in the East, were the No.1 seed.

Yet after four games, the series was tied 2-2 and Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer stated his team was facing a challenge from Brooklyn.

Even after Atlanta won Game 5, putting the Nets on the brink of elimination, there was no thought of the season ending on Friday night in Barclays Center. In fact, the Nets were confident they’d be returning to Atlanta for a decisive Game 7.

“This has been a thrilling series,’’ Coach Lionel Hollins said on Thursday. “And if we hold serve at home and extend it to a seventh game, anything can happen.”

Unfortunately the Nets will never know if the favored Hawks would have wilted under the pressure of a Game 7. Atlanta played its best game of the series and ended the Nets’ season with a 111-87 victory.

The Hawks used a 23-3 run at the start of the third quarter to take control of the game. Thaddeus Young gave the Nets their only lead of the game at 2-0.

The Nets, who got younger and more athletic this season, have a lot to look forward to after making this a riveting series.

“I commend them,’’ Hollins said the Hawks. “They have a very, very, very good team and I’m proud of how we battled and took them to a six-game series.’’

KEY STRETCH: The first quarter: The team that has won the first quarter won every game in the series. Atlanta jumped out to a 36-23 lead. The 36 points were the most the Nets have allowed in the first quarter. The Hawks did it on 72-percent shooting. Before the game, Hollins said falling behind early by a significant margin was not desirable. He was right. The Nets were fighting an uphill battle all night.

KEY STRETCH II: After closing to within 51-45 at halftime. The Hawks opened the second half on an 8-0 run. It was déjà vu. After falling behind by 13 in the first quarter, the Nets fell behind by 14 in the second. And the Hawks weren’t done. They broke open the game with a 23-3 surge to take a 74-48 lead.

KEY PLAY: After Joe Johnson hit a jumper to make it 51-45, the Nets forced the Hawks into a turnover. A mere seven-tenths of a second were left on the game clock, but it was enough time for Johnson to get off a 35-foot three-pointer. The shot almost dropped. Johnson hopped in disappointment. Had it gone in, the Nets would have trailed by three at halftime and that might have changed the team’s energy entering the second half.

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NETS GAINS: Brook Lopez proved throughout the series that he is one of the game’s elite centers. Lopez finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. He averaged 19.8 points and nine rebounds.

KEY STAT: Hawks point guard Jeff Teague didn’t score a point in 23 minutes and 30 seconds, but he had 13 assists and one turnover.

TALK: “I’m proud of our team, where we started back in September, the uncertainty, new coach, trying to blend it all together,’’ Hollins said. “Then injuries, and up and downs."

“I’m thankful for the players and what they gave and proud of how they stuck with it and stayed with it and we were able to secure a playoff spot. People would say, ‘Hey, we didn’t deserve it.’ But that’s their problem."

“I think we battled and fought and overcame, even in this series, we battled and fought and it would have been nice to get another victory and have a chance to go to a seventh game. It wasn’t to be.’’

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