The Nets are going to give their free agency pitch this summer and talk up their growth, their player development prowess and unexpected push into the playoffs. It’s a warranted boast.
But what they’re going to omit is the final impression of their season, the scene in Wells Fargo Center of them getting punked by the 76ers in their elimination Game 5 on Tuesday, 122-100.
The Nets were embarrassed and were embarrassing. Most troubling was the play of D’Angelo Russell, who capped an underwhelming series with a dud – eight points, 3-for-16 shooting. Russell is headed into restricted free agency and will command a long-term contract paying more than $20 million per season. But he certainly didn’t look like a money player in his first postseason, shooting just 36 percent over five games.
Kevin Durant can’t be impressed.
Afterward, Russell was very complimentary of the game plan from Sixers coach Brett Brown.
“Offensively, they kind of got what they wanted. Defensively, they forced us where they wanted,” Russell said. “So just great coaching.”
The storylines heading into Tuesday centered on the Nets’ discontent with the officiating, with the GM, Sean Marks, suspended because he angrily burst into the referees’ room after Game 4 and the owner, Joe Tsai, fined $35,000 for tweeting out a similar sentiment.
If the Nets responded well in Game 5, it could’ve been a rallying cry. Instead, they dropped their fourth straight in the series and all their commentary on biased officiating just felt like the whining of a loser. Coach Kenny Atkinson said before tipoff he expected his team to “come out fighting like lions.” Then they cowered like lambs.
The game was over after five minutes. The Nets missed their first eight shots while committing five turnovers. They trailed 14-0, then 25-3. It’s hard to express just how poorly they played offensively in the first quarter. Think sewage.
“S–t, you guys watched it,” Russell said. “They did a great job capitalizing off our misses. Doing what they wanted before we could get on the board.”
The Sixers led by as many as 39 in the laugher, and it ended with four ejections in garbage time because of a small shoving match. Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa were ejected for the Nets, while Greg Monroe and Jonah Bolden were given the boot for Philly. The “scuffle” was so soft it’s not worth mentioning.
What really mattered was that the Sixers owned the four best players in the series – Joel Embiid (23 points, 13 rebounds), Ben Simmons (13 points, six assists, five rebounds), Tobias Harris (12 points, 8 rebounds) and Jimmy Butler (9 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds) – and they owned the Nets in the last four games. Embiid declared the series was over Philly’s gritty Game 4 victory in Brooklyn, and then he followed through by once again flexing his size advantage.
The Sixers, seeded third, face No. 2 Toronto in the second round.
The Nets can go fishing.
“Definitely a lot a of positive vibes to look forward to. I thought we had a very successful year and guys came into their own throughout the year,” said Russell, a first-time All-Star this season. “So that’s definitely a positive going into the summer, coming into next year. Individually, one of the guys who came into their own and thrived.”
Atkinson utterly misread his team going into the game.
“I think we have a chip on our shoulder. I almost feel like we’re more motivated. That’s my take from (Monday’s) practice,” the coach said. “I know we’ve got to do it on the floor, but I know yesterday myself as a coach and Sean and the whole organization, you’re almost like, man, we’re going in there with a chip on our shoulder. I think we’re more motivated than ever.”