The Nets fell way short of their championship expectations in 2013. They played lethargic, embarrassing basketball and were constantly critiqued for the organization's decision to hire their former player as a coach.
On the contrary, 2014 has been a thrilling, intense journey for the Nets. Well, except for last night. The team has been on a tear since the calendar turned from 2013 to 2014, going 30-13 during that stretch. The team has went from the bottom of the Eastern Conference all the way to fifth, and possibly even further up the standings.
This run started on January 2, the Nets first game in the New Year and last on a hard, three-game road trip. The Nets were in Oklahoma City to play the Thunder, led behind Kevin Durant, who was just starting his incredible month-long scoring outburst. Two nights prior, the Nets fell to the Spurs in embarrassing fashion, 113-92, falling to 10-21 on the season.
The Nets were down by double digits after three quarters and were facing yet another loss to a team they aspired to meet in the NBA Finals at the beginning of the season. Then, it happened. It all clicked.
The Nets rallied late behind great defense and passionate play to knock off the offensive juggernaut Thunder, thus starting their three-month long run back to the top of the East. I wrote in detail about the Nets fantastic defense against the Thunder here, but I want to look at the intensity that has been so prevalent as of late during the Nets final frame in OKC.
Just a few days prior Kevin Garnett opened up to reporters about how losing and his age may be catching up with him. "You put Father Time on top of that (losing). It doesn't help anything else. And knick-knacks and injuries and stuff like that and guys going out. It's just a frustrating time." The Nets were the most expensive team ever compiled in league history, and were on the brink of falling into basketball limbo.
That is why this game was so important to the team. They needed the confidence of knocking off an elite team and earning a victory. One can see as the game progressed that this was it, there season was either changing in Oklahoma City, or it may be time to blow it up.
Just check out here the Nets bench getting into their defensive possession.
The Nets have been more vocal from the sideline than last year, but loss after loss definitely changed their demeanor. But not in this game. The Nets bench was very involved in the game, as was usually nonchalant Jason Kidd.
Of course, the Nets won the game courtesy of yet another Joe Johnson moment, which only adds to the gravity of this game.
The reactions of Johnson, Kidd and the entire Nets' bench show it all. The Nets felt the weight of being 11 games under .500 be alleviated. It seemed that they could finally put their poor start to the season behind them and push forward.
The emotions the Nets showed in this contest has carried through the rest of the season up until now. They have gotten the Barclays Center crowd, who wasn't very loud and hostile in their inaugural season, to become one of the hardest place to play. Players have been vocal about how great the crowd has been and are currently on a 14-game winning streak at the Barclays, the longest in franchise history.
Their run back to the top of the East started with their rally in Oklahoma City. I even tweeted how crucial this victory was.
I don't know if it will stick, but this was the #Nets season. After all that happened, this was it. All that effort, heart was all in...— Reed Wallach (@ReedWallach) January 3, 2014
If they lose that game, it's over. They dug out of a whole, and won at the buzzer. You can see the jubilation and excitement on this team.— Reed Wallach (@ReedWallach) January 3, 2014
I'm not going to say they are doing anything big, but this is the type of game that sparks a team. #Nets— Reed Wallach (@ReedWallach) January 3, 2014
The Nets ripped off four more wins in a row following the OKC win, including a double overtime victory over the Miami Heat.
Last season the Nets knocked off the Thunder in a blowout in early January. However, the Nets of 2013 remained inconsistent throughout the remainder of the season and lacked the heart that this 2014 team has. This season's team has had to face more adversity and more scrutiny, and they have persevered and clearly come out on top.
Now, the Nets are starting to worry the class of the East. If not for their come from behind victory capped off by a patent Johnson buzzer beater, no one would be talking about the Nets spurt to the top.