NEW YORK — The Nets saw their season come to an end on Friday, in a game where the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks finally looked like the 60-win team we saw earlier in the regular season.
Atlanta broke the game open with a 23-3 run to start the second half, and eliminated Brooklyn from the postseason in blowout fashion.
The Nets finished the regular season six games under .500, and the team’s total of 38 wins continued a decline that’s occurred in consecutive campaigns. But Nets head coach Lionel Hollins was proud of the way his guys were able to come together late, and seemed to use the playoffs as a measuring stick of whether or not he was able to achieve some measure of success.
“I’m proud of our team,” Hollins said. “Where we started back in September, the uncertainty, new coach, trying to blend it all together, the injuries and ups and downs, I’m thankful for the players and what they gave, and proud of how they stuck with it. And we were able to secure a playoff spot.
“Some people would say hey, maybe we didn’t deserve it. But that’s their problem. 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.”
The Nets did find a way to beat the Hawks twice, and were competitive at times for essentially five-and-a-half of the six games of the series. Hollins hammered this point home when he was asked if his team took longer than expected to figure things out.
“Did we make the playoffs,” Hollins interrupted, somewhat defiantly. “OK, there’s your answer. If we didn’t make the playoffs, then you could ask that question. But 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 (it takes for ) everybody to come together. But we did come together, and we had a beautiful run down the stretch. And we made the playoffs.”
Hollins choice of finding some positivity in his team’s late-season run just to make the postseason — even with a record of just 38-44, and even in the watered-down Eastern Conference — seemed to have trickled down to his players.
“I’m happy we were able to fight and get into postseason play with all the injuries and the changes that were made throughout the course of the season.,” Jarrett Jack said. “I think all of us had bigger expectations for ourselves, but all in all I thought we pushed this team to the limit. We came into a situation where we fought tooth and nail to get into the playoffs, and I thought when we got in, we didn’t disappoint.”
“We wanted to make the playoffs,” Deron Williams said. “We did, and we thought we put up a great effort against this team that’s the best in the East.”
The Nets did give their fans some excitement near the end of a mostly dreary season, and there is certainly something to be said for that. Hollins did a good job of shuffling lineups and getting the most out of what he had against the Hawks, and found a rallying point around Williams, who endured an avalanche of criticism publicly before his breakout 35-point Game 4 performance.
But that doesn’t erase the fact that Brooklyn largely underachieved for the vast majority of the regular season.
“It seemed to take a bit longer than all of us would have liked,” Jack said. “But that’s basketball for you.”