Nets Head Coach Lionel Hollins made their season out to be one of the greatest in sports history in his postgame remarks Friday night after Brooklyn was eliminated by the Altanta Hawks in Game 6, 111-87.
Hollins opened his press conference on Friday by saying, “Guys, ladies, I just want to say I’m proud of our team and where we started back in September, the uncertainty, new coach, trying to blend it all together, then injuries, and up and downs. I’m thankful for the players and what they gave. I’m proud of how they stuck with it and stayed with it and were able to secure a playoff spot. Some people would say, ‘hey, we don’t deserve it,’ but that’s their problem.”
The Nets went 38-44, and needed the Indiana Pacers to lose their last game just to make the playoffs. The Pacers played without Paul George for around 70 games of their season, so the fact they were around on the last day was an achievement and a testament to Frank Vogel’s system. The Miami Heat lost Chris Bosh for the season in February, at a time they were well ahead of the Nets. If Bosh played out the rest of the season, they likely would have edged out the Nets.
38 wins for a team with a league-high payroll of $182 million is a failure, not something to be celebrated. Hollins wants to make the Nets out to be this group of plucky, hungry guys, which is far from the reality of a team with guys like Deron Williams and Joe Johnson with bloated contracts who looked like they couldn’t have cared less on many nights in the regular season. The Nets went a dismal 19-22 at home, a lot of tough basketball for their fans to sit through.
The Milwaukee Bucks, who finished .500 at 41-41, finished 6th, a tremendous achievement for former Nets Head Coach Jason Kidd, who did it with basically the same group that won 15 games the prior season once Jabari Parker went down to injury in December. The Boston Celtics, in full rebuilding mode, finished with 40 wins and the seventh seed, another team that achieved a lot this season.
Hollins continued on this narrative and talked about the Atlanta series, “I think that we battled and fought and overcame and even in this series, we battled and fought. It would have been nice to get another victory and have a chance to go to a seventh game, but it wasn’t to be. They were the better team and they showed it in the last game here. When we were in Atlanta, they started exerting themselves and getting to the paint. Some of their players that we had held out, we held (Jeff) Teague down and out of the paint early, we held (Al) Horford down, but ultimately they rose up and Teague was a huge factor here when it came down to the last couple of games. Kyle Korver had a super series, but I thought the MVP of the series was DeMarre Carroll and if I was picking the second MVP it would have been Paul Millsap. Those two guys burned us every way you could think of, scoring, driving, passing, rebounding, I commend them.
“They have a very, very, very good team and I’m proud of how we battled and took them to a six-game series. We’re going to attend two summer leagues and try to get some of our internal players better, then I’ll get with Billy (King) and our front office and we’ll talk about other needs. I wish no one would ask me a question about who’s going to be here and who’s not going to be here because I have no idea and it’s unfair to try to get me to say something tonight after being disappointed with the loss and the way we lost as well,” said Hollins.
Later on, Hollins deflected a very legitimate question of whether it took too long for the Nets to figure things out this season by sternly stating, “Did we make the playoffs? Well then there’s your answer. If we didn’t make the playoffs then you could ask that question. Right now, my feeling is that we overcame; we got to the playoffs. However long it takes is however long it takes. I’m not in control of however long everybody coming together takes, but we did come together and we had a beautiful run down the stretch and we made the playoffs.”
Hollins makes getting a spot in the playoffs like winning the championship. I don’t know if it’s defiance or the fact he knew he didn’t have a great team despite the high payroll. It took him until about March to be sold on Brook Lopez and re-insert him into the starting lineup after sending him to the bench for the inferior Mason Plumlee. If Brook were made a starter sooner, let’s say around February 1st, they likely would have won more games.
It is unclear what Hollins means by saying “my feeling is that we overcame.” This isn’t exactly New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. This was a bunch of comfortable, overpaid basketball players that didn’t give a damn about the 82-game regular season.
Let’s examine that “beautiful run down the stretch” that Hollins paints as if he were PBS painter Bob Ross. On March 27th, the Nets rose up to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-98, as they played with far more energy than Cleveland, who had a rare off night. Two days later, the Nets sleep walked through their game with the downtrodden Los Angeles Lakers, with the game going down to the wire and holding on for a 107-99 win.
The Nets beat the Indiana Pacers on March 31st 111-106 and nearly choked away a 20-point lead to the Knicks the next night at The Garden, winning on a Brook Lopez jumper with a second left, 100-98.
On April 3rd, the Nets beat the Toronto Raptors, who were resting Kyle Lowry, 114-109. The next night, the Nets did not show up in Atlanta and were routed 131-99.
The Nets beat the Portland Trail Blazers on April 6th 106-96 , largely because Portland did not bring Wes Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum east for the make-up game. Two nights later, the Nets lost to the Hawks, 114-111, as Atlanta dealt with Pero Antic and Thabo Sefolosha being arrested in a Manhattan nightclub incident in the early-morning hours.
The Washington Wizards gave the Nets a gift on April 10th, as they rested John Wall. The Nets took advantage and won 117-80.
The Nets followed that up by getting blown out twice. The first one was on April 12th in Milwaukee as the Bucks blew them out 96-73. The Nets returned home the next night and the Chicago Bulls embarrassed them 113-86.
In the season finale, the Nets needed to win their game with the Orlando Magic and for the Pacers to lose to make the Playoffs. They had real issues in the first three quarters with the Magic, who led most of the way, and the game was tied at 75 entering the fourth. The Magic, who finished 25-57, fell apart in the fourth, as they did numerous times this season. The Nets blew them out 26-13 in the fourth to win 101-88.
For some perspective, P.J. Carlesimo won 35 games in the 56 he served as interim coach in 2012-13 after Avery Johnson was dispatched 28 games into that season. P.J. won just three games less than Hollins’ 38 in the full 82-game season. Carlesimo’s reward for a 35-21 record was being fired the next morning after the Nets lost a classic seven-game series to the Chicago Bulls.