Another season with championship aspirations went up in smoke at Barclays Center when the Boston Celtics swept the Nets off their own home court in Game 4 on Monday. The disappointing result, however, was predictable given the number of twists and turns thrown the Nets’ way this season.
Here’s a timeline of the different storms the Nets had to weather on their way to an early playoff exit.
OCT. 12, 2021 – NETS SHUN KYRIE
Irving’s decision not to get vaccinated rendered him ineligible to play in home games at Barclays Center to start the season. The Nets compounded his availability issues by also ruling him ineligible to practice at home or play in road games.
“Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose. Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability,” Nets GM Sean Marks said on Oct. 12. “It is imperative that we continue to build chemistry as a team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice. Our championship goals for the season have not changed, and to achieve these goals each member of our organization must pull in the same direction.”
NOV. 14, 2021 – HARRIS SPRAINS ANKLE
After a particularly poor showing in last year’s playoffs, Harris came out the gates shooting 46.6% from three-point range. But he significantly sprained his left ankle in a Nov. 14 matchup in Oklahoma City against the Thunder, and two weeks later, he underwent a procedure to remove a bone particle from the injured foot.
“He’s going to have a scope and we’ll see what that means once he has the procedure,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said on Nov. 29. “We think this is a really positive thing that can put this situation behind him, instead of risking re-occurrences.
“We feel confident that the procedure will allow him to come back and not look back.”
DEC. 18 – OMICRON OUTBREAK
As the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus hit the United States, it also rocked the NBA, causing spikes in cases league-wide. The variant hit the Nets particularly hard: 13 players were in the health and safety protocols at the same time in mid-December entering January, with Patty Mills and Blake Griffin as the only veterans never to test positive for COVID-19 this season.
As a result of the outbreak, Nets management decided to bring back Irving on a part-time basis, allowing the unvaccinated star to play in road games. Shortly after the announcement, Irving tested positive for COVID-19, entered the health and safety protocols and made his season debut in Indiana against the Pacers on Jan. 5.
“Several months ago, we made a decision that was based around what was best for the team,” Marks said on Dec. 19. “What was best for the team at that point was continuity, and I think we all see that continuity right now, over the course of the last week, and whatever the future looks like, may be out of the window for a while.
JAN. 15 – DOWN GOES DURANT
In a Jan. 15 matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans, standout rookie Herb Jones shoved Nets’ guard Bruce Brown to the ground on a drive to the rim. Brown tumbled directly into Kevin Durant’s leg, buckling the Nets’ star’s left knee inwards. An MRI revealed a sprained MCL that sidelined Durant for a month-and-a-half until after the All-Star break.
The Nets spiraled: With Irving only playing part-time, Durant out of the rotation and James Harden still out of shape and a shell of his former MVP self, the Nets lost 11 straight games and fielded 18 losses in a 21-game stretch.
“To be honest, I feel like our season was derailed by my injury,” Durant said on April 4, after the Nets had spiraled from first in the East to 10th place. “I’m not looking at it like we’re just not a good basketball team. There wasn’t a lot of continuity with me and Kyrie out of the lineup. That’s just what it is. When we’re all on the floor together, I like what we’ve got.”
JAN.-FEB. 2022 – HARDEN WANTS OUT
It became increasingly clear with each passing day that Harden no longer wanted to be a part of the Nets. He was frustrated by the offensive load he was forced to carry with Irving in-and-out of the lineup while Durant suffered a knee injury, and reports began to surface of his desire to play in Philadelphia with Joel Embiid and his former Rockets GM Daryl Morey.
At the trade deadline, the Nets shipped Harden and embattled veteran forward Paul Millsap to Philly for Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond, Seth Curry and two first-round picks.
“I think we got better,” Blake Griffin said after the trade deadline. “We definitely got what we wanted: Guys that want to be here and guys that want to play.”
MARCH 3, 2022 – HARRIS NEEDS SECOND SURGERY
Harris’ first surgery didn’t do the trick, and he ended up suffering setbacks during his ramp-up to return to play. He sought a second opinion from a doctor in Indianapolis and attempted one last time to get healthy enough to help his team.
Ultimately, it was fruitless. Harris’ ankle required a second and season-ending surgery, robbing the Nets of a shooter who led the NBA in efficiency in two of the last five seasons.
“Joe has done every single thing he possibly could up to this point to avoid having surgery,” Marks said on March 3. “We feel terrible for Joe. We all know how much he means to this group. He’s the one stalwart that’s been here from the beginning, and for him not to be a part of this run that we’re about to go on, physically on the court, I couldn’t put that into words–but I know Joe is feeling it: heartbroken about not being able to be out there on the court contributing.”
MARCH 26, 2022 – VAX MANDATE LIFTED
Following pressure from the New York Yankees and Mets regarding their unvaccinated MLB players, mayor Adams created an exemption in New York City’s vaccine mandate that allowed unvaccinated pro athletes to play in home games without fulfilling the one-dose requirement.
The decision allowed Irving, who was previously only eligible as a part-time player, to return to full-time status. Irving’s brain, however, was well ahead of his legs. Conditioning quickly became a sticking point as his efficiency tapered with more games on the schedule.
He made just 38 of his first 105 shot attempts after becoming a full-time player and conceded dead legs could be a reason for his shooting struggles.
“Yeah it could be,” Irving agreed after shooting 12-of-32 in a loss to the Hawks. “I won’t rule it out, but I’m not here to make any excuses for why it’s not going well for me on the offensive end.”
“I think Kyrie’s adapting to playing every night, every other night now,” Nash added.
BEN SIMMONS SAGA
Curry replaced Harris as the floor-spacer in the Nets’ starting lineup, and Drummond brought a much-needed paint presence to the front court, but the Nets needed Simmons to replace Harden’s playmaking and spark an oftentimes lackadaisical defensive effort.
But they never got him. Simmons never suited up in a Nets jersey this season. He wasn’t in game shape when he got to Brooklyn then suffered a herniated disk while ramping up his conditioning. In mid-March, Simmons received an epidural to alleviate the pain associated with his back injury but never improved significantly enough to make a comeback for the Nets’ short-lived playoff run.
“There’s no other way than him to say, ‘I’m ready,’ especially after an absence this long,” Nash said at TD Garden. “So whenever he is ready, it’s gonna have to be on him to say, ‘I feel comfortable,’ ‘I feel ready to go,’ ‘I want to play,’ ‘I want to contribute.’ We can’t push him places when you have been out this long. It’s gotta be something where he’s definitely comfortable and ready to play.”
On paper, the Heat and Bucks were the two worst-case first-round playoff matchup the Nets could have drawn, but the Celtics proved a different caliber, as well.
The Nets never had any answers for the Celtics’ swarming defense on both Durant and Irving, and Boston took full advantage of the Nets’ lack of size by pummeling them on the glass and in the paint. The Celtics swept the Nets off their own home floor in four games, putting the final nail in the coffin for a season that was destroyed by a hurricane of things happening off the floor that eventually spoiled the product on the court.
“You did a pretty good job, Kristian, of recounting where we’ve gone this year,” Nash said ahead of Game 4. “I think that’s a big reason why we’re in (this) position. Lack of continuity, Kevin having to carry such a heavy burden to keep us in the playoff picture, all those things off the floor play a role in what happens on the floor as well. So they’re tied and there’s no question that it has an impact over the course of a season. There’s too many things that held us back for moments and pockets.”