The Brooklyn Nets are the No. 1 seed in the East and one of the favorites to win this year’s title, which would be the first NBA championship in the franchise’s history. The team has been to the ultimate series before, though, but when was the last time the Nets made the NBA Finals?
When Did the Nets Last Make the NBA Finals?
The Brooklyn Nets have never been to the NBA Finals, but the New Jersey Nets, the same franchise but under a different name in a different state, got there in 2003.
The Nets made it to the NBA Finals in 2002 as well, but it didn’t go so well. As the No. 1 seed in the East, the Nets reached the Finals after dispatching of the Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, and Boston Celtics in the first three rounds of the playoffs. But the Los Angeles Lakers were too much for the Nets to handle. It only took the Lakers four games to sweep the Nets, though three of those contests were decided by six points or fewer, and bring another NBA championship to LA.
In the 2002-03 season, Jason Kidd led the scoring attack with 18.7 points per game. The 29-year-old also added 8.9 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per contest during the campaign. Kenyon Martin was the next-highest scorer on the team, averaging 16.7 points per night, as well as 8.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Richard Jefferson (15.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game), Kerry Kittles (13.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game), and Lucious Harris (10.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists per game) were the team’s other double-digit point-getters.
Bryon Scott was the team’s head coach, his third season in charge of the Nets. Scott was an assistant for the Sacramento Kings from 1998 to 2000 until the Nets hired him to become their next head coach prior to the 2000-01 campaign.
The New Jersey Nets began the 2002-03 season with a 4-0 start, then began to trend water for the next month until a five-game winning streak provided them with a 16-7 mark in mid-December. After two Ls, the Nets followed that up with an even longer successful run, triumphing in 10-straight contests into early January.
The Nets were 37-18 by Feb. 20 before a negative run struck them. They lost seven of their next eight before slowly righting the ship through March. A four-game run of Ws in late March became very important by the end of the regular season when the Nets dropped four of their final five outings but still remained No. 1 in the Atlantic Division, just one game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers.
A 49-33 regular season record was plenty good enough to qualify the Nets for the playoffs. The team was awarded the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference behind only the Detroit Pistons, with the Pacers as the No. 3 seed and 76ers in the conference’s No. 4 spot.
Nets Last NBA Finals Appearance
First Round – Milwaukee Bucks
The Nets were paired with No. 7 seed Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 2003 NBA Playoffs. The Nets opened the series with a 109-96 victory behind 21 points from Kenyon Martin on 10-of-16 shooting from the field and a huge advantage on the glass, outrebounding the Bucks, 48-28. But Game 2 was a different story. The game was extremely tight throughout with 18 ties and 30 lead changes. But a triple from Tim Thomas with about three minutes to play provided Milwaukee with a one-point advantage that it wouldn’t relinquish, squaring the series at 1-1 with an 88-85 win.
The Nets led for most of Game 3, up 15 at halftime leading by 12 midway through the fourth quarter. But the Bucks mounted a late comeback, scoring seven-straight points over a two-minute span to tie the game at 101 with 27.4 seconds remaining. But a jumper from Rodney Rogers with two ticks to go gave the Nets a two-point advantage that would be decisive, giving the 103-101 W to New Jersey and providing the higher seed with a 2-1 series lead.
The series continued to entertain in Game 4. New Jersey controlled the first quarter, but Milwaukee responded in the second and found itself down just one at the break. The teams traded roles in the second half, with the Bucks building a lead in the third quarter that the Nets demolished in the fourth. Richard Jefferson made one of two free throws with 28.2 seconds on the clock to even the game at 100, and overtime would be required to determine a winner. In OT, Toni Kukoc scored eight points for the Bucks, which were huge in securing the 119-114 triumph for them that forced a 2-2 series tie despite Martin and Jefferson combining for 58 points.
In Game 5, Jason Kidd led all scorers with 19 points, relying heavily on the free-throw line in an otherwise poor shooting night. Kukoc put up 18 off the bench for Milwaukee, but a double-double from Jefferson (17 points, 16 rebounds) helped mitigate the damage. A close game from the start ended with the Nets slowly amassing a medium-sized lead, eventually claiming victory, 89-82. Five Nets scored in double figures in Game 6 as they led the Bucks by double digits for almost the entirety of the night, putting an end to a strong fight from Milwaukee that ultimately ended in a series defeat after the 113-101 scoreline of the sixth game.
Eastern Conference Semifinals – Boston Celtics
The No. 6 seeded Boston Celtics stood in front of the Nets next after they upset the Pacers in the first round, 4-2. To open the series, Paul Pierce put up 34 and Eric Williams scored 15 points off the bench for Boston, but a balanced scoring attack from the Nets with five double-digit scorers was just barely enough. The contest had seven ties and 12 lead changes, including a 85-85 scoreline with 3:33 left to go. But the Nets were cold blooded at the free-throw line, going 8-of-10 from the charity stripe as a team between that mark and the final buzzer, securing a 97-93 win and a 1-0 series advantage.
Pierce had another big night in Game 2, completing a triple-double with 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists, but it still wasn’t enough. Kidd had a double-double of his own on 23 points and 11 rebounds, plus eight assists to boot, and Jefferson led the Nets in scoring with 25. The Nets shot 7-of-10 from beyond the arc for the night and cemented a 104-95 victory. New Jersey dominated Game 3 despite double-doubles from Pierce and Antoine Walker. The Celtics couldn’t get enough from the rest of its squad as the Nets held them to just 76 points in a 94-76 beating. Kidd had 11 assists and Martin and Jefferson combined for 45 points on the night.
Boston made Game 4 much more of a contest, keeping it close throughout and even holding an eight-point lead with four minutes left in regulation. But the Nets quickly erased that, going on a 12-4 run to end the fourth quarter to send the game to OT. Eric Williams had a chance to ice the game for the Celtics with 17.2 seconds to go in regulation, but he made just one of two to force overtime rather than give his team the lead.
The first overtime wasn’t enough to determine a winner with both teams scoring seven points in the extra period. The second OT is when the Nets finally created separation, scoring six unanswered points early in the period to form an insurmountable lead. It took a long time to do it, New Jersey won Game 4, 110-101, and finished off the sweep of the Celtics in the process.
Eastern Conference Finals – Detroit Pistons
The top-seeded Detroit Pistons awaited the Nets in the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals and eliminating the No. 8 seed Orlando Magic and 76ers in the first two rounds.
Like many of New Jersey’s other playoff games, Game 1 was about as tight as a game can get. The Nets built a seven-point margin by halftime that Detroit flipped into an eight-point lead by the end of the third quarter. New Jersey responded in the fourth and led by as many as seven, but a late Pistons run knotted the game at 74 with 22.2 seconds remaining. That’s when Jason Kidd came up with the game-deciding bucket, connecting on a jumper with 1.4 ticks to go to give the Nets a 76-74 victory.
Game 2 required more late-game heroics and a fourth-quarter comeback to eliminate a nine-point deficit, but the Nets were able to get it done in a close game yet again. Richard Jefferson hit two free throws with 48 seconds to go to unlock the teams from a tie, and a crucial defensive stand kept the Nets in the lead at the final buzzer, 88-86. Kidd and Kenyon Martin combined for 45 points and Jason Collins posted a double-double for New Jersey on 11 points and 14 rebounds, overcoming a 24-point performance on 11-of-20 shooting from Richard Hamilton.
Despite a Ben Wallace double-double (13 points, 15 boards), the Pistons didn’t have enough to keep up with the Nets in Game 3. By halftime, New Jersey was comfortably in the lead, and that only grew until the final whistle. Kidd lead all scorers with 34 and chipped in 12 rebounds for a double-double while Lucious Harris and Anthony Johnson combined for 20 points of New Jersey’s bench. The Nets claimed victory, 97-85, to go up 3-0 in the series.
It only got worse for the Pistons in Game 4. The Nets led for almost the entire game, really opening it up in the fourth quarter to eventually win, 102-82, to finish their second series sweep in a row and clinching a spot in the 2003 NBA Finals. Again, Kidd led the Nets with a double-double on 26 points and 12 rebounds, and Kenyon Martin provided a double-double of his own with 14 points and 10 boards. They were two of five double-figure scorers for the Nets on the night in the cruise to victory.
NBA Finals – San Antonio Spurs
For the second year in a row, the New Jerseys Nets were in the NBA Finals. But also for the second year in a row, the Nets couldn’t complete the mission.
The San Antonio Spurs, the No. 1 seed out of the Western Conference, reached the ultimate series after taking care of the No. 8 Phoenix Suns, No. 5 Los Angeles Lakers, and No. 3 Dallas Mavericks. The stage was set for a memorable NBA Finals.
The Spurs put the Nets behind in the series after claiming Game 1, leading for the entirety of the second half and eventually winning by a 101-89 mark. Five Nets scored in double figures with Kenyon Martin leading the way with 21 points, but Tim Duncan posted 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting, hauled in 20 rebounds, swatted seven shots, and dished six dimes to boot. David Robinson, Tony Parker, and Stephen Jackson combined for 42 points to further pull the Spurs away from the Nets.
Following a theme from the Nets’ playoff run, the team won a close one in Game 2. The Nets were up 10 heading into the fourth quarter, but San Antonio trimmed that down to just one with 1:32 to go in the game. But Kidd immediately hit a seven-foot jumper to push the lead back to three and proceeded to connect on five free throws to close out the contest to clinch the victory, scoring his team’s final seven points en route to an 87-85 Nets victory and a 1-1 series tie. Kidd finished with 30, carrying the team’s scoring output by putting up almost 35% the Nets’ points. Duncan had another double-double, this time on 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Game 3 was neck-and-neck for most of it, too, until the Spurs went on an 8-0 run early in the fourth to build an eight-point cushion. That run proved to be the difference as San Antonio took the 84-79 win and a 2-1 series lead. Duncan and Parker combined for 47 points as again the superstar center went for a double-double (21 points, 16 boards). Martin and Kidd also had double-doubles and Kerry Kittles had 21 points on the night, but that didn’t get the Nets the outcome they wanted.
The Nets responded in Game 4, which would end similar to many of their other playoffs games in 2003. Jefferson and Martin both had big nights, posting a double-double each and combining with Kidd for 54 points in a game that had eight ties and 10 lead changes. The Nets were up 11 points at the break and maintained a decent lead until midway through the third quarter when the Spurs roared to score the final 12 points of the quarter to go up one to start the fourth. The Spurs continued their run, scoring 16 unanswered before the Nets got a word in more than a minute into the final period. All of the eight points the Nets scored in the last four minutes of the game were at the free-throw line and they again proved their worth from the charity stripe. Kidd and Martin combined for 13 points in the final 12 minutes as the Nets narrowly held off San Antonio, 77-76, to knot the series at 2-2. Duncan still couldn’t be contained, though, scoring 23 points, collecting 17 rebounds, and rejecting seven shots for another insane statline.
The Spurs lead for most of Game 5, though the Nets forced a couple of ties in the third quarter. But the fourth quarter was all San Antonio as it defended the 66-57 advantage it held at the start of the final 12 minutes. New Jersey came within two midway through the period, but Duncan made two free throws and then assisted on a Steve Kerr three to extend the lead back to seven. The Nets wouldn’t get closer than six for the rest of the game, and the Spurs took a 3-2 lead in the series with the 93-83 triumph. Duncan had 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting with 17 rebounds and four blocks while Malik Rose and Manu Ginobili scored in double figures off the bench for the Spurs. Kidd had 29 points on 10-of-23 shooting to lead the Nets.
San Antonio closed out the series and the 2003 NBA championship in Game 6, breaking New Jersey’s heart with a fourth-quarter comeback. The Nets led, 65-57, at the start of the fourth quarter and were still up by nine three minutes into the period. Then, the Spurs went on a 19-0 run to completely change the game situation, turning a 72-63 deficit into an 82-72 advantage in the space of about five minutes. That run was the difference in the game and ultimately brought another title to San Antonio as the Spurs won, 88-77, and closed the chapter on the last time the Nets were in the NBA Finals.