Brooklyn experiment blows up, as Nets fail chemistry test

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Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

It didn’t take long for the Brooklyn Nets to become one big joke wrapped around a series of punchlines, for a promising championship season to suddenly turn into an unabated clown show. It made them laughable, it diminished a drama-filled season that came to agonizing end. It’s not breaking news here, but, um, the Nets were not as good as advertised.

All season long, the Nets had been riding a wild roller coaster of highs and lows, with twists and turns and loops. Monday night’s result aside, it was perfectly reasonable for everybody to pick the Nets to win the NBA championship. They were clear-cut favorites to win a ring, and had an opportunity to show how good they were in the present when they faced a very hot Celtics squad in the first round.

Instead, the Nets spiraled downward, suffering a four-game sweep at the hands of the Celtics in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal. Chemistry has been a problem. Cohesion has been a problem. Part-time commitment has surely been an issue. There was no predicting which version of Kyrie Irving would show up for playoff games. The wishy-washy, erratic guard who believes the Earth is flat took a night or two off and missed lots of games due to his personal beliefs and vaccination status. His absence on the team bit the Nets in the ass, making it difficult for everybody to understand their roles and gel together as a unit.

You can bet most Nets fans were more excited about Ben Simmons possibly targeting Game 4 to make his Nets debut as the season quickly started to melt away. Publicly, making everybody believe he would play a damn game for once, it was more than just simply a joke. It was pathetic. He didn’t play this season, citing back pain and mental health concerns as reasons to sit on the sideline dressed in street clothes, as he watched helplessly and pitifully. Fake excuses. Nice try.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, the Nets had already failed the chemistry test. This big three experiment turned out to be an explosion that blew up in their faces. It was embarrassing, and it was a damn shame. The Nets were shaky, and then the Celtics knocked them out. Irving’s flakiness, and self-centeredness and aloof nature had been well documented. The elephant in the room is exactly how the Nets would further plummet to unimaginable depths. An unvaccinated Irving was willing to skip home games and sacrificed his time and energy to take a stand against the vaccine. Playing a basketball game, to him, was not important.

The Nets were built to win this season, but remember, they weren’t on the court together enough to improve the camaraderie of the entire team. This was ultimately the defining characteristic of this team and this season. They were miles behind the Celtics, who noticeably outclassed and outmatched them at every level of the game. Faced with elimination, they couldn’t even stay alive at least for one more night. They couldn’t even win a game in the seven-game series against the Celtics. Not one.

This Brooklyn team couldn’t send the series back to Boston and make things more interesting. Having already been down 3-0 in the series, there wasn’t a lot of room for error, and there was even less space to overcome their shortcomings and solidify themselves once again as title favorites. This Boston series tested the Nets in ways the regular season could not and exposed some serious concern for this Brooklyn squad. This was, quite simply, a team with a lack of direction and leadership. The former NBA guard Steve Nash became Brooklyn’s head coach without prior coaching experience.

Irving, still the best all-around guard when he’s on his game, refuses to take accountability and blame for his team’s early playoff exit. He’s the reason James Harden grew frustrated, wanted a trade out of Brooklyn and found a new home in Philly with the Philadelphia 76ers. He was culpable in that his continued lack of commitment and seeming disinterest was what undermined and damaged the morale of the team. Perhaps part of it is the reason why his team is going home, why the Nets couldn’t foster a spirit of togetherness and communication.

The Nets couldn’t work in harmony throughout the series. They didn’t play a lick of defense and let guys do what they want. The ball wasn’t moving all over the place. Brooklyn, as a team, wasn’t able to prioritize team play, and instead the Nets put the ball Kevin Durant’s hands and expected him to go to work. It was damn near impossible for him to carry a heavy load against one of the best defensive units in the league. That’s a tall order for a guy who was drawing more attention and, more specifically, being double teamed and crowded, nudging him into taking difficult jumpers.

Their season was so largely dependent on one guy — and obviously the team’s No. 1 option — that the well-organized Celtics took away the Nets primary weapon. Durant has been a phenomenal on-court performer but he was nonexistent throughout the series, particularly in Game 3 when he just scored 16 points as the Celtics won to put the Nets on the brink of elimination.

There wasn’t enough time to figure it out. The Simmons saga had completely overtaken the narrative surrounding a pivotal Game 4 at Barclays Center on Monday night. The blame game surely got more vitriolic and intense. You can blame Irving for a lot of Brooklyn’s first-round exit to Boston. You can point the finger at Nash for not emphasizing the importance of defense. Celtics’ head coach Ime Udoka, his assistant last season, outcoached him.

There will be a ton of drama and media attention in the next few days. It was often wondered this season whether the Nets held a strong claim as true title contenders or just pretended to be something they’re not. Some had picked the Nets to win the NBA championship before the season. But they let their championship hopes slip away, as the Celtics reminded us how dangerously good they are with their exceptional wing play. Brooklyn trended in the wrong direction. It’s not difficult, at all, to pinpoint where it all fell apart for the Nets.

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