The Brooklyn Nets, winners of five straight, are headed to the postseason as the Eastern Conference’s second overall seed, their best finish since 2004. Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s .667 winning percentage was its highest since 1976, back when the Nets, led by Julius “Dr. J” Erving, were still in the ABA.
Considered the odds-on favorite to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy this summer, the high-powered Nets were an offensive juggernaut in 2021, pacing the league in field-goal percentage (49.4) while finishing second to Milwaukee in points per game (118.6). We haven’t even seen the Nets at their best with the star trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving playing together a grand total of eight times during the regular season.
Speaking of Irving, the All-Star guard joined rare company Sunday, becoming the ninth member of the NBA’s 50-40-90 club, shooting over 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free-throw line for a full season. Of the nine players who have met that criteria including Hall-of-Famers Larry Bird, Reggie Miller and Steve Nash (the latter serving as Irving’s current head coach in Brooklyn), Kyrie played the fewest games, logging 54 appearances in 2020-21. Prior to Irving—who stands alone as the only Net to gain entry to the 50-40-90 club—the last player to do it was Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (now of the Pacers) in 2019. Irving’s teammate, Kevin Durant, achieved the feat while with Oklahoma City in 2013.
Though it’s come with the usual amount of chaos and controversy (Irving was fined the maximum $50,000 for flouting the league’s COVID protocols in January), the eccentric 29-year-old has been brilliant as usual this season, ranking among the league leaders in both scoring (26.9 points per game, ninth-highest) and efficiency rating (24.51 PER is 11th-best). He also sank 50.6 percent of his shots while netting 92.2 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, both career-highs for the former No. 1 pick.
The Nets will have a few days off before beginning their playoff run against the winner of Tuesday’s Celtics/Wizards play-in game. Brooklyn swept its season series with Boston (3-0) while losing two of three to Washington including a 149-146 thriller at Capital One Arena back in January. Russell Westbrook, a former teammate of both Durant (OKC) and Harden (OKC and Houston), went for 41 points—one off his season-high—in that contest.