Exhaustion had replaced exhilaration by the time the Nets took the court for Monday’s fait accompli playoff game against the surging Boston Celtics.
The early-season excitement surrounding the Nets and their glittering roster faded through a season’s worth of head-butting against the Murphy’s law adage that anything that can go wrong usually will.
Gone, too, were the packed rows of New York celebrity onlookers, like Mary J. Blige, Spike Lee and Aaron Judge, who attended Game 3 at Barclays Center, perhaps trusting — despite the preponderance of evidence of the contrary — that a quick win on Monday would propel the Nets back into the series.
Even Ben Simmons, who had stood out from the sideline earlier in the series because of his kaleidoscope outfits, was not there.
The Nets fans who attended Monday’s game seemed subdued, perhaps drained from one season that felt like many more because of the array of off-court distractions. Celtics fans, who witnessed their team undergo the midseason revitalization that Brooklynites expected of the Nets, arrived ready to pour salt into festering wounds.
Boston — too cohesive, too lengthy, too tenacious — simply slammed the door on a Nets season derailed from the start.
Kyrie Irving missed most of the season because he refused to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Kevin Durant, bothered by a knee injury, missed more than a month.
The Nets plummeted with an 11-game losing streak. James Harden forced a trade to Philadelphia that returned, among others, Simmons — the centerpiece of the deal who never took the court.
Often alone shouldering the load throughout the season was Durant. During the playoffs, he crafted his best performance of the series on Monday with 39 points.
But Jayson Tatum’s two-way performance throughout the series neutralized Durant. Boston fans serenaded Tatum with chants of “M-V-P” in Brooklyn before he fouled out on Monday with 2 minutes 48 seconds remaining and the Celtics leading by 6 points. Their final lead was just 4 points — just enough for victory. And too much for the Nets.
Irving is now in line for a contract extension. Most of the Nets’ veteran rotation players are scheduled for free agency. No one knows when the injured Simmons will play. But the story of this season may not so much be how it ended, but whether the Nets’ stars have been left with enough to find a way to start again.