By Steve Lichtenstein
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As I was walking through the bowels of the Barclays Center on Monday night after Game 4 of the Nets’ Eastern Conference semifinal series with Miami, I spotted Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov straight ahead.
It’s safe to say Prokhorov looked peeved as he briskly passed by me in his track suit.
As was his right after watching his $190 million (including luxury taxes) investment take a bath in the end game to fall behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Well, I wouldn’t want to be the one who dared encounter the Russian billionaire after Wednesday’s performance in Game 5.
In as fitting an ending as you could script for this season, the host Heat roared back from an eight-point deficit in the last three minutes to send the Nets back to Brooklyn for good, 96-94.
The how and why are really not big secrets. All season long, the Nets have played with fire in their close-outs of games.
After Joe Johnson, who once again carried the Nets with a game-high 34 points (24 in the second half), knocked down one of his patented step-back jumpers to give the Nets a 91-83 lead, Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd tried to take the air out of the ball.
Never mind that there was still plenty of time for Miami to make up three possessions, Kidd instructed his charges to play stall ball.
There’s Deron Williams dribbling the ball near the halfcourt line as the shot clock dwindles to 10 seconds. And there goes another missed contested jump shot–two by Mirza Teletovic, one each by Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce, and two by Johnson.
That set the table for allowing Miami to regain the momentum. They eventually took advantage of poor Nets’ rotations to take the lead on a Ray Allen three-pointer with 32 seconds left.
If only the agony ended there.
Not with this bunch. Johnson’s corner three-pointer with 11.4 seconds left (the Nets only points over the final 4:49) and a LeBron James free throw miss gave Brooklyn one more opportunity at the end–but the Nets failed to even get off a shot. Allen and James double-teamed Johnson to knock the ball away and knock the Nets into their offseason.
Which in the past two years were as exciting as some of the games.
That’s because Prokhorov gave his general manager, Billy King, access to his vast bank account and a mandate.
In his tenure, King has mortgaged away virtually all his trade chips to build a roster that could compete for a title.
And then he hired a neophyte in Kidd, just 10 days removed from retiring from his Hall-of-Fame worthy playing career, as coach.
While Kidd did grow some in his new job–thinking outside the box to recreate the team’s identity without center Brook Lopez after the New Year–let’s not spin the idea that the Nets’ hellish 10-21 start didn’t count.
It counted the same as all the games the Nets threw away at the end of the season so that Kidd could rest his veterans for the playoffs.
Not that it made much difference to a certain overpaid point guard wearing No. 8.
Wednesday featured another fourth-quarter disappearing act by Williams. After putting up solid numbers in the first three periods, D-Will missed the only two shots he took and passed for just one assist when it mattered most.
Williams wasn’t alone (let’s hear it for that acclaimed bench, which posted 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting from the floor) to blame, but he’s the designated face of the franchise. It was King’s trade for Williams back in early 2011 that promised to be the foundation for the franchise’s rebirth in Brooklyn.
All the moves made and funds expended since were expected to have more of a payoff than a 44-38 sixth-place regular season in an awfully weak conference followed by a five-game ouster in the second round.
While some will say that the sunk costs this season were mere tip money for Prokhorov (though I have first-hand knowledge of certain obscenely rich folks who despise wasting any money, no matter how relatively small the amount), I would bet that the sting to his competitive side will not be deemed acceptable.
I’ll delve more into this underachieving season and what the future holds for this group in the coming weeks.
For now, I’ll cite Robert DeNiro’s character in “A Bronx Tale”, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”
And that’s how I feel about the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets. They should have been better, but they weren’t.
As they say in Brooklyn, “Wait till next year.”
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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