When the Brooklyn Nets made massive acquisitions in the summer of 2013 to improve a roster that had a lackluster first round of the playoffs and infused it with the veteran presences of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Andrei Kirilenko, the plan was always to be a challenge for the Miami Heat. You don't spend close to $200 million in salary and luxury tax penalties without expecting to compete for the NBA championship. That was Mikhail Prokhorov's reason for writing a blank check. That was the reason for Billy King making the moves he did. That was the reason the veteran roster was put together in the manner in which it came together.
Unfortunately for the Nets, they never got the chance to put that plan on full display. Players were in and out of the lineup in the first couple months of the season, Jason Kidd was figuring out how to be a coach, there was drama with Lawrence Frank being reassigned to daily reports. And before the Nets could put their full roster to use, Brook Lopez broke his foot yet again and was ruled out for the season.
From there, the Nets adopted a small ball mentality and lineup, maximizing the remaining pieces while hoping Garnett and Kirilenko could be ready for the playoffs. After getting past a tough first round series against the Toronto Raptors, the Nets had their showdown with the Heat, but not in the manner as was constructed.
The Heat won the first two games of the series with relative ease, after hearing leading up to the start of Game 1 about the 4-0 season series sweep the Nets handed them. The third game of the second-round matchup went to Brooklyn, after firing an incredible 60 percent success rate from downtown. Game 4 was a display of LeBron James' greatness as he dropped 49 points to tie his career-high in the playoffs. In Game 5, the Nets limped to the finish line by surrendering an eight-point lead with under three minutes left in the fourth quarter. A 12-0 run by the Heat gave them the lead and the Nets couldn't figure out how to stave off elimination.
LeBron James. The 49-point effort was incredible and James just bullied his way past smaller and slower defenders throughout this series. He made it a mission to keep getting to the rim and he excelled in finishing in the restricted area. He took 40 of his 86 shots in the series inside the restricted area and converted 80.0 percent of those attempts. These weren't all breakaway dunks either. James finished against defenders all series long and finished with averages of 30.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists while shooting 57.0 percent from the field.
Chris Bosh. Bosh was phenomenal for most of this series, aside from a bit of a no-show in the Game 3 loss. His numbers won't be eye-popping with averages of 14.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, but he kept the Nets' big men honest on defense with a 3-point percentage of 36.4. His defense was also stellar, helping on double teams, hedging pick-and-roll plays, and being in great position on most defensive possessions. The Heat were nearly six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Bosh on the floor.
THE SERIES WAS OVER WHEN...
Brook Lopez broke his foot? Despite the 4-0 season series sweep by the Nets, this team wasn't going to pull off the upset without Lopez. When LeBron dropped 49 in Brooklyn in Game 4 to secure the 3-1 series lead, the nail was being hammered into the coffin and the grave was fully dug out. The Nets needed a full complement of weapons to see if their plan worked and they never got that chance. They put up a solid fight in five games, but this series ended when Lopez broke his foot.
Maybe this is a testament to where the Heat are as a franchise right now in their quest for a three-peat, but it didn't feel like we really had key moments. The Heat took care of business in the first two games with Ray Allen providing some big shots off the bench. We had Mirza Teletovic tweeting out his shot chart after Game 2 and then helping fuel a 3-point barrage in their only win. Or we had this moment during LeBron's biggest scoring night in which he chatted up Jay Z and Beyoncé before getting a steal and a breakaway dunk.
That was kind of it.
LOOKING AHEAD FOR MIAMI
Now the Heat wait to see if the Indiana Pacers can close out the Washington Wizards in one of the next two games or if they'll have to prepare for the Wizards' arrival in Game 1. History tells us the most likely scenario is Indiana closing out the series and getting the home court advantage they've talked about since losing out to the Heat in Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. The Heat get to rest now and the earliest they'll play is Sunday in Indianapolis.
They didn't do enough to secure the 1-seed in the East this season and they'll have to prove that the venue isn't important to them. Their role players were decent in the first two rounds, but they'll need to be better against the Pacers if they look like they've figured out their problems. Wade and Bosh will have to be consistent scoring the ball and LeBron will need to be on the top of his game.
LOOKING AHEAD FOR BROOKLYN
The two biggest questions entering the offseason for the Nets revolve around their two biggest acquisitions from this past offseason. Will Kevin Garnett stick around for another season or will he retire? And with Paul Pierce's free agency, where is he likely to end up next season? The KG thing should be resolved fairly soon. He's scheduled to make $12 million next season and may not want to go out like this.
As for Pierce, convincing him to stay is a lot easier if you have Garnett coming back. The Nets don't care about money or salary cap or the luxury tax. As long as they're maintaining flexibility for the summer of 2016 to make a run at Kevin Durant, they'll pay whatever it takes in the interim. They can offer Pierce close to the same money he got this year (roughly $15 million) and even extend it out for a second season, because the money now doesn't make a difference. They're locked in to the core they have and don't have much flexibility to make big moves.
Kirilenko, Andray Blatche, and Alan Anderson all have small player options they can pick up, but declining them to get paid more would be the smart way to go. The Nets will be able to retain them, but each guy probably needs to take a pay cut off what the market would pay. They'll also have to hope Shaun Livingston wants to stay for below market value, otherwise they'll be in search of a new backup point guard.