The past is irrelevant for Nets now

This was March 6, inside a boiling cauldron of a basketball arena called TD Bank Garden. The Nets became a losing team that afternoon. They lost to the Celtics, 126-120, Jayson Tatum had dropped 54 on them, and their record — which at one point was a gaudy 23-9, best in the East — was now 32-33.

The Nets had been whole that day, too. Kevin Durant scored 37. Kyrie Irving had 19. The entire band was together for one of the few points to that point in the season. They still lost. Their record still dipped below sea level.

“Concerned and worried, those words, it’s easy to do that,” Durant said, maybe half an hour after the final buzzer that Sunday afternoon. “It’s easy to be concerned, it’s easy to be worried and pissed off and mad. It’s easy to do that. We can point fingers and blame our season on other things.

He paused a beat.

“But let’s just go play.”

Everything that has come before is mere anecdote for the Nets. Tuesday night they host Cleveland, and if they beat the Cavaliers at Barclays Center in the NBA’s leadoff play-in game, they not only officially secure the No. 7 spot in the East and a seven-game date with the Celtics, they’ll get four full days of rest, too, with Game 1 scheduled to tip Sunday.

The Nets, who retain championship ambitions, aren’t just drawing to an inside straight by taking this path, they’re only starting out with a 2 and a 6 and hoping to land three miracle cards along the way. It isn’t the easiest way to get from here to Borough Hall, but it is their only way. Survive the play-in gauntlet. Then survive four playoff series, with none of those potential Game 7s being played in Brooklyn.

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant dunks against the Pacers on April 10, 2022.
Corey Sipkin

But the Nets have hinted all year that for all the craziness, nuttiness and zaniness that so often threatened to send their season careening off the track, they’ll figure it out when it needs to be figured out. They’ve never actually said “we’ll flip a switch when we need to.” but in act and in deed that’s exactly how they’ve behaved.

Now they get a chance to prove it.

They really do need to win Tuesday, and let the Cavaliers worry about a one-and-done gauntlet Friday. Even if that game would be in Brooklyn for the Nets, they cannot want any part of that. They can’t have the season come down to a 48-minute referendum. What they need to do is channel Frank Galvin in “The Verdict”:

“There are no other cases; This is the case. There are no other cases; THIS. IS. THE. CASE.”

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving during the Nets’ win over the Pacers on April 10, 2022.
Corey Sipkin

Or, translated to the Nets’ predicament: “There are no other games; THIS is the game. There are no other games; THIS. IS. THE. GAME.”

Or, even better, using the Galvin-to-Durant translator: “Let’s just go play.”

That should be enough, of course. It should almost always be enough. The Nets have Durant and Irving, and that’s a hell of a head start. The Cavaliers, who had been the surprise of the league for most of the year, lost presumptive rookie of the year Evan Mobley for a week late in the year and also have been without the Nets’ old pal, Jarrett Allen, since March 8, and Allen will sit Tuesday, a clear blow for the Cavs.

It should not matter. The Nets have their Big Two, and if they can buy more time, they might even be joined by Ben Simmons at some point. They have never lacked for confidence, even during points when this season seemed on a collision course with the abyss. They remain that way.

“Let’s get it on,” Irving said Sunday, after the Nets closed out the season on a modest 12-5 tear by outclassing the Pacers, 134-126.

Irving sounds ready. Durant sure looks ready. The Nets have asked all along for us to believe them when they say they have some extraordinary basketball ahead of them, and not our lying eyes when what we see runs counter to that. All right then. Starting Tuesday, all former bets are off. They Nets start drawing to that inside straight.

Let’s get it on.

Let’s just go play.

There are no other games. This is the game.

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