BROOKLYN — On the bright side, the Nets’ season ended with a playoff game, in a new arena, in a new home, with a young, urban crowd decked out in black Brooklyn gear. Walking through the Barclays Center during the night, I counted one — yes, just one — “New Jersey” jersey being worn by a fan — equaling the number of “Sex and Drugs and Rap” t-shirts I saw.
Sitting to the right of me near the mid-level press row were four young beauties decked out in black, one of whom screamed one line at the top of her lungs before she and her posse exited in disgust.
“Get Joe Johnson out of here!”
Let the record show that the final shot taken by any member of the Nets at the conclusion of their inaugural season in Brooklyn was an airball by Johnson that missed by a good two feet. It was his second airball of the fourth quarter, a period in which he shot 0-for-5.
So the worst contract in basketball looks even more morose this morning as only one team remains standing in New York City, and it isn’t the one that draws regular folks from the home borough. The stockbrokers, hedge fund traders, Wall Street types and corporate mucky-mucks will be back in their seats at the city’s lesser (though longer established) arena Sunday for Game 1 of the Pacers-Knicks series, the Bulls will be waking up in their hotel beds in Miami at some point during the early afternoon, and the Nets will be wondering how this series got away from them in their brand new arena against a team missing three starters after they had pulled out Game 5 and Game 6 victories to force a deciding seventh game.
“Joakim Noah busted our ass for 23 and 14? You kidding me?” one black-clad fan said to his buddies as they headed toward an exit on Atlantic Avenue that was temporarily blocked as some fans posed with John Salmons for a photograph. Salmons was in the house, too, as was Rihanna, looking spectacular — something that could not be said of Johnson, too many of his teammates, and his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, who missed the memo about this being a Game 7 and him needing to ride Brook Lopez harder than any coach had ridden him throughout his Nets tenure.
There were 2 minutes left in the third quarter, and the Nets had cut a 17-point deficit down to six, when Carlesimo gave Lopez the hook and subbed in Andray Blatche.
“I don’t like that sub,” I said to Moke Hamilton, who was sitting next to me (I was obstructing his view of the four hotties).
“Me either,” Hamilton said, as we then proceeded to watch Joakim Noah score on a dunk and a lefty hook shot and Blatche badly miss a corner J.
Lopez remained on the bench over the first 2:15 of the fourth quarter as neither team scored a single point, and it was 84-76 after Carlos Boozer scored on a driving layup over Kris Humphries before Lopez returned with 8:33 left.
Whatever opportunity the Nets had to seize the momentum and get the crowd behind them had been lost, and a closing run never commenced despite the Bulls playing a lineup that included rookie Marquis Teague playing 6:15 of the fourth quarter after logging a grand total of 8 minutes in the previous six games combined, three of which he did not play in.
The Nets ended up getting nine fourth quarter points out of Deron Williams, six out of Lopez and three out of everybody else (Hump went 1-for-4 from the line for one of those points, and Gerald Wallace had the other two but shot 1-for-4 in the quarter, including 0-for-2 on 3s.)
Johnson? He went 0-for-5 overall while playing 10 fourth-quarter minutes, missing all four of his 3-point shots.
Going into the game, if you had Marco Belinelli being the offensive key for the Bulls you are either from Italy or out of your mind, but whichever is the case, you were right. He scored nine of his 24 points in the final quarter, Noah grabbed eight of his 14 rebounds in the final period, and the Bulls never let Brooklyn make a game of it down the stretch.
Such a shame for the Nets.
For the Bulls? Well, it gets them a date with the Miami Heat, for whatever that’s worth, and they won’t last long against the class of the NBA if they don’t get Kirk Hinrich and/or Luol Deng back. And maybe Derrick Rose, too. But do we really want to go off on that tangent?
If the Bulls win one single game, it’ll be because of heart. And probably because of Noah, too, after he had one of the better games of his life with 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks with his family in attendance.
Remember, this is a guy who could barely walk when the series began.
“To play a game like this, in front of my family, in Brooklyn, I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” Noah said.
Now that’s a memory for the ages.
For Nets fans, well, they’ll always have Johnson’s airballs.
But as mentioned earlier, at least that memory happened in a cool new place in front of a young, genuine crowd.
The New Jersey vibe has been left behind. The losing that went along with that geographic tenure? It’ll take some more time to shake that off. But at least they’ll always have a Game 7 to recall from their first season in Brooklyn. A Game 7 that was more memorable for the way Belinelli and Noah played than for how the Nets played, but a Game 7 nonetheless.
The ending was nothing to be proud of, but the vibe was a world away from Jersey. If you are a Nets fan, you take that and hang onto it through the summer and into next season. Nobody in Brooklyn was expecting a championship anyway.
And by the way, it’s the same vibe in Chicago. The fans there lost faith in this team long before the playoffs even began.
For the Bulls players, the agony will come soon enough against the Heat. With so many walking wounded, it’ll be a miracle if they aren’t swept. But they’ll always have the better memory of what went down the first time a Saturday night NBA game was played in Brooklyn, and that’s got to be worth something.
Come Monday, the beginning of the end of their season will commence. They deserve some props for making it that far, but they aren’t going anywhere unless Derrick Rose …
Oh, never mind. Too many tangents in this column already. Let’s just say it’s something worth wondering about over the next day and a half.
Because if that guy is ready to play … and with the heart and depth his teammates just showed … if they can steal Game 1 or Game 2 in Miami …
OK, enough. Derrick Rose isn’t playing this postseason, right?
Just trying to remind myself of that before writing them off.
But if he plays, anything can happen. I just watched Marquis Teague have a better fourth quarter than Joe Johnson, which should serve as a reminder that anything can happen.
All we can do now is wait and see.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.