"Sometimes when you lose, you really win." -- Gloria Clemente (White Men Can't Jump)
Although the Nets lost by an average margin of 22 points during their first three regular season games against Atlanta, their final meeting in Brooklyn left fans with the belief that they could compete with the Eastern Conference's top seed.
Yes, the Nets lost that night, but some fans saw reason for optimism. If you recall, Brooklyn rallied back from a double-digit deficit in the second half to capture the lead, but couldn't seal the deal in the final moments. Frustrating? Yes.
To me, that loss was reminiscent to the NFL regular season finale when the New York Giants lost to the "unbeatable" New England Patriots. Although it was filed under the loss column, the Giants walked off that field knowing that they had what it took to compete with them, and when the two squared off a few weeks later in the 2008 Super Bowl, it was the Giants who were the victors, despite being the underdogs.
Now back to basketball. How both teams got here is irrelevant now. It doesn't matter that the Nets finished below .500 and their opponent won 22 more games than them during the regular season. The playoffs represent a new season, and after four games Brooklyn has clearly proven that they belong on the same court as the Hawks. Some might argue that they've been the better team. After all, they've outscored them thus far in the series by a cumulative score of 394-393.
So what's been the secret to the their success? Yes, Atlanta clearly has no answer for Brook Lopez, however, there seems to be something else. Maybe it's something that can't be quantified.
Through adversity builds character, and it's no secret that Brooklyn individually and as a whole has dealt with a lot of it. Whether it's been criticism from fans, media, or opposing (former) players, the Nets have heard unflattering comments regarding their lack of leadership, toughness, and passion.
For the first time during Brooklyn's Big Three Era, there seems to be chemistry that is forming between the parts that had previously been deemed incompatible. Could it be that continuity and patience is finally paying dividends? The team that has been on a three-year search for its identity has finally found it and an aura of confidence seems omnipresent.
There's no denying that the superb play of Lopez as well as the addition Thaddeus Young and development of Bojan Bogdanovic helped save the Nets regular season. Now in the postseason, there seems to be an intangible element factoring in here as well.
If you are going to shock the NBA world, then you better come to play with the right frame of mind. It may have taken longer than expected, but perhaps Lionel Hollins's tough love approach and straight talking ways was exactly what this team needed to unify as a gritty group. How the team rallied around Deron Williams and overcame a 12-point hole in Game 4 is enough proof for me to know who Brooklyn's leader is, and that man can be found wearing the snazzy pocket square.
The Hawks came out swinging in Game 4, but were unable to knock out the Nets in this series. Heading back to Atlanta for a best-of-three from here on out, Brooklyn seems to have the momentum and confidence that they can pull off the unthinkable.
In the "Information Age" we live in today, perhaps too much emphasis is put on the analytics. At the end of the day, the game is played on the court and not on a spreadsheet.
For all of the blemishes on the Nets' resume during the regular season, the one area that seems to be increasing is one that cannot be measured with statistical evidence, which is confidence. The Nets seem to have it and with the way they are playing, they are halfway to pulling off one of the biggest upsets in playoff history.