It’s no secret that the Brooklyn Nets find themselves squaring off against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Regardless of what Brooklyn team officials will say, the goal was to tank at the end of the regular season in order to secure the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. The thought process was simple, and Brooklyn lost four of its final five games to do so. The No. 3 seed Toronto Raptors did not have enough playoff experience and mental capacity to outlast the battle-tested veterans on Brooklyn, paving the way for an inevitable Eastern Conference Semifinal showdown with the Heat. And although the series proved far tougher than Brooklyn had initially anticipated, they were able to ultimately advance in Game 7 over the Raptors, 104-103. Mission accomplished.
Brooklyn doesn’t have much history against the Heat, but aging veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have a checkered past with the two-time defending champion LeBron James. This rivalry began back in 2007, when Pierce and Garnett teamed up with Ray Allen, the all-time leading three-point shooter in NBA history, to join the Boston Celtics. Back then they were considered the “Big 3” themselves, or even the “Boston 3 Party” by others. Interesting to note that sportswriters, media personnel and even the general public had no issues with these three future Hall of Famers joining forces to create a super team, polar opposite to what Miami’s trio dealt with following “The Decision”. Let’s also point out that Pierce and Garnett publicly ridiculed former teammate Allen when he bolted for Miami, even going so far as to say communication had been completely cut off. Yet a year after Allen’s departure both Pierce and Garnett found themselves in the same boat, agreeing to a trade in order to have one last chance at a championship — or maybe one last chance to dethrone King James.
Brooklyn heads into this series having beaten the Heat all four times in the regular season which is an impressive feat. In fact, it is the first time in James’ career that he has gone winless against an opponent during a regular season. However, three of Brooklyn’s four victories came by a one-point margin, while the last victory came in double-overtime. Let’s also remember that Dwyane Wade missed two of these contests as part of head coach Erik Spoelstra‘s “maintenance” program, aimed to give as much rest possible to Wade’s balky knees. Altogether, Wade missed 28 games, or roughly a third of the regular season. Nonetheless, Brooklyn had success in these match-ups by employing a small lineup with Pierce at power forward and Joe Johnson, or “Iso” Joe, at the small forward spot. If this trend continues, look for Miami to counter by moving James from his conventional small forward position to whoever has the hot hand.
Sports media outlets will say this match-up was destined to occur. Pierce and Garnett will have one final shot for glory. But reality will soon set in for this tandem and the Brooklyn organization. The advantage this team had against the Raptors will not translate in this series. Miami is the most battle-tested team in the playoffs. Since their loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, Miami has not lost a playoff series to date.
The reason for this is no secret, nor is it difficult to comprehend. Defeating LeBron four out of seven times is a daunting task and not one Brooklyn is capable of. Pierce and Garnett will end their season, and perhaps their last chance to contend for a title, at the hands of James. Perhaps the mere chance to be in the spotlight one last time will be enough satisfaction, because the end result is inevitable.
Prediction: Miami wins series 4-2
Sandeep Rajpal is an NBA writer for RantSports.com