Losing’s lament: A longtime Nets fan reflects on Game 4


I’ve been a Nets fan for too long to not see this coming. It was supposed to be Brooklyn: All New.  New players, new coaches, new stadium, new jerseys, new city, new fans, new hope, new money, new winning, new chants, new ticket prices, new playoffs.

And yet, why does this series feel like the most classic of scenarios in possible Nets playoff runs?

Up 1-0, home court advantage, the Nets dominate a Bulls team decimated by injuries in Brooklyn. The offense is moving, the team is running, isolations are kept to a minimum and a statement of a Deron Williams dunk sends shivers through my 12-70-Melodrama-Dwightmare-surviving spine. The Nets are finally ready to be a good basketball team, it finally looks like this team is ready to not let me down again, to make good on their $300 million dollar promises. After a game like that, it was supposed to be a sweep, maybe a five-game series. I was supposed to be reading articles like: Will the Nets be able to compete with the Heat? Instead, the Nets have defaulted to their old ways, losing three straight in inimitably depressing fashion.

Games two and three were a drag despite the relative closeness of the scores, because the Bulls forced a low pace, grind-it-out defensive effort that led the Nets back toward their no-plays playbook—the one that mostly consists of stilted isolations, evaporated ball movement, and questionable shot selection. Then there’s game four. I’ll admit the tense line between being a sports fan first and a sports writer second, especially considering this is a team I’ve watched through most of my life without any major successes, save for the overmatched Jason Kidd teams at the beginning of the millennium. At heart, I’m still a hopelessly, naively optimistic Nets fan who wants nothing more to see this team make the right moves and go on to win an NBA Championship.

After game four, that optimism dulled to a muted stupor. A 2-2 series was winnable, and could launch them into a fine little run to take down the Heat. Again I’d bought into the notion that the Nets finally had gotten it together, only to be left speechless after the third and final overtime.  It was bad, and that Chicago’s comeback could only be explained by basketball writer clichés—they wanted it more, Nate Robinson was just unstoppable, the Nets didn’t try enough—made my neck vein especially stand out. Whatever writerly persona was saying logical things—”surely, Nate Robinson will be stopped with stand-up defense and better decision making”—was being swiftly pushed out the door by the unreality of what was actually happening. Eventually, there was nothing left to do but yell at the TV, always a sign you’re having good fun during a basketball game.

To be honest, I’m hesitant to see the Nets win on Monday, because it would hurt too much for them to mount a comeback only to fail in a higher stakes Game 6 or Game 7. There’s some kind of blunted dignity in going straight down, in admitting you’ve got to retool before making a better go of things. It’s a sad reaction, but that’s the cautious fan side of me speaking—the one that avoids post-game reports after difficult losses, and is getting tired of the mocking dispatches from other NBA writers as they identify how this team doesn’t have it together. Even if they could get to the second round and play the Heat, what then? Oh, the spectacle of watching Miami come through town would be something, but there have been too many difficult moments as Nets fans to stomach another gut punch—something I and plenty of repurposed Newark followers are still learning to deal with.

The last time the Nets were in the playoffs, it was an event in my house. They played the Toronto Raptors, and I’ll never forget that Richard Jefferson lay-up to steal the series. I remember it as a thrilling, gripping series, but that might just be hindsight, the way everything old fades into a hazy ideal. This series was supposed something I could remember in full, and though the Nets didn’t show up the way I wanted them to, I’m hoping it’ll be different in the future. Hello Brooklyn, I guess.