Nets Earn Postseason Berth

Despite a rocky season, the Nets have earned a postseason berth. (Courtesy of Jack Roche)

Despite a rocky season, the Nets have earned a postseason berth. (Courtesy of Jack Roche)

As the NBA regular season concludes, it’s difficult to pick a team with a more hectic timeline than the Brooklyn Nets. At one point the preseason favorites to lead the NBA in wins according to Vegas, the Nets barely squeaked into the Play-In Tournament, fighting for seeding up until the final game of the year. 

It was a season like no other. Kyrie Irving dominated headlines before play even began, becoming one of the most prominent voices in sports who spoke out against the COVID-19 vaccine. As a result of his choice to not get vaccinated, he was unable to join the Nets due to New York City mandates and was not with the team all throughout 2021. As a result, the Nets grew desperate for offensive firepower, placing heavy minutes and stress on the team’s stars. James Harden averaged 37.0 minutes per game, the highest volume he’d seen since his 2015-16 campaign in Houston. Kevin Durant saw this same effect, playing 37.2 minutes per game, his highest average since the 2013-14 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. As a result, he’d suffer an MCL sprain in mid-January, forcing him to miss 21 consecutive games. 

In an 82-game season, the Nets trotted out 43 different starting lineups. This was highlighted on December 18, with Brooklyn starting Patty Mills, Kessler Edwards, Cam Thomas, David Duke Jr. and Blake Griffin. Mills was  the only player to average over 25 minutes per game and the team’s  bench was composed of players on 10-day contracts. Notably absent from this lineup was Harden and Durant, two out of a whopping 10 members of the team placed in health and safety protocols. As COVID-19 surged through the Nets locker room, General Manager Sean Marks made the eventual decision to accommodate Irving as a part-time player, still unable to meet the vaccine requirements to play in New York.

“We’ve seen the large minutes our guys have had to endure and play, and we’ve got to look at what’s best for the team over the course of the season,” Marks told reporters, citing this as a main reason in welcoming Irving back to the team.

As the trade deadline approached, rumors grew louder that star guard Harden was unhappy in Brooklyn. On February 10, Brooklyn pulled the trigger, sending Harden and Paul Millsap to Philadelphia in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round draft picks. This was seen as a massive haul for both sides. However, without Harden in the lineup everyday and Durant sidelined to injury, the Nets would plummet in the standings. From November 18 until December 31, Brooklyn possessed the best record in the East. Without both of these players, the Nets dropped 11 straight games starting in late January. 

With the chaos that had ensued throughout the course of the year, they couldn’t have picked a better time to hit their stride. Durant rejoined the team on March 3. While a few more weeks would pass, on March 27, Irving played his first game at the Barclays Center after New York City expanded its vaccine exemption to city-based entertainers.

In 29 games, Irving matched his career high in scoring, averaging 27.4 points per game. Durant was just shy of the 30-point mark on the season, averaging 29.9 points per game across 55 contests. Brooklyn finished the season on a four-game win streak, clinching the #7 seed in the East and hosting the first play-in Game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

The Nets defeated the Cavs 115-108, with Irving leading the way with 34 points and 12 assists. Durant also contributed in a big way, tallying 25 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. When it mattered most in a must win game, Brooklyn’s stars came out to shine.

With the win, the Nets advance to face the #2 seeded Boston Celtics in a best-of-7 series, who Brooklyn is just 1-3 against this season.

The Nets season has shown us some of the highest highs and lowest lows. While it has underperformed its expectations as the best team in the league, everyday it is looking more and more like Brooklyn is here to stay as they position themselves for a deep playoff run.