The start of a new era for the Nets came with no shortage of bold moves surrounding the move to Brooklyn in 2012.
As Barclays Center rose at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic, the Nets put together an All-Star backcourt with trades for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in the space of 18 months. Despite a 49-win regular season, matching the second-best record in the franchise’s NBA history, the first season in Brooklyn ended in the first round of the playoffs.
For year two in Brooklyn, they doubled down. Franchise legend Jason Kidd, who had led the team to NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, came on as head coach right after retiring as a player. More big names came on board with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett arriving in a trade from Boston, and Andrei Kirilenko and Shaun Livingston deepened the bench.
It added up to a wild ride before the Nets were eliminated in the conference semifinals against the defending champion Miami Heat. That was preceded by the first playoff series win of the Brooklyn era, and YES Network will broadcast the thrilling Game 7 clincher over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday at 8 p.m. with a Nets edition of YES We’re Here featuring Spencer Dinwiddie airing at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
With all the new pieces, the Nets got off to a 3-10 start, and were 9-19 after losing to the Bulls on Christmas day. Injuries had to be navigated all season long. Brook Lopez played just 17 games, the last on Dec. 20. Kirilenko played 45 games, Garnett played 54, and Williams 64. With Kidd digging deep, 14 different players averaged 15-plus minutes in the games they played.
A turnaround took off soon after New Year’s, with the Nets winning 10 of 11 between Jan. 2 and Jan. 26, including a 127-110 win on a trip to London to play the Atlanta Hawks. They ended up going 35-19 after Christmas to finish 44-38 and take the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Lopez had been off to a big start, averaging 20.7 points while shooting 56.3 percent before going down. A more balanced attack emerged in his absence. Johnson led the Nets with 15.8 points per game while shooting 40.1 percent from 3-point range. Williams averaged 14.3 points and 6.1 assists and Pierce averaged 13.5 points.
That set up a first-round matchup with the Raptors, who had finished four games ahead of second-place Brooklyn in the Atlantic Division.
The Nets won the series opener in Toronto as Johnson and Williams each scored 24 points, but they dropped three of the next four and faced elimination as they returned to Barclays Center for Game 6 trailing 3-2 in the series. Brooklyn blitzed the Raptors from the start to take a 34-19 lead at the end of the first quarter and cruise to a 97-83 win as Williams had 23 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
For the decisive game, it was back to Toronto, and the season hung in the balance until the final buzzer.
Marcus Thornton scored 14 of his 17 points in the second quarter as the Nets outscored the Raptors by 10 in the period and took a 61-53 halftime lead. They were still up eight going into the fourth quarter and led 100-93 with two minutes to go.
But an 8-2 run capped by a Kyle Lowry jumper brought Toronto within 102-101 with 17 seconds left. Two Livingston free throws made it 104-101 for Brooklyn before a Terrence Ross layup with nine seconds to go made it a one-point game again. On the inbounds, the Nets turned it over, giving the Raptors one more shot. Pierce denied it, blocking Lowry’s shot to seal the 104-103 victory.
Johnson led the Nets with 26 points while playing 45 minutes, and Garnett had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The win sent the Nets on to face the Heat, whom they had beaten in all four regular season meetings. The playoffs were a different story. Miami quickly took control by winning the first two games at home and closed the series out in five games. In 12 playoff games, Johnson averaged 21.2 points while shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range.