Only eight teams in NBA history have overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series to get to and win Game 7. Thanks to wins in Games 5 and 6 against the Chicago Bulls, the Nets are in position to be the ninth team to accomplish the feat when Game 7 is played on Saturday night in Brooklyn.
Among the many things running through P.J. Carlesimo's mind as he prepares his team for Game 7 is the need to keep the edge that served them well in getting them back into the series after it fell behind 3-1 following Saturday's 142-134 triple-overtime loss at the United Center.
"I think that's a big concern, to continue the desperation with which we have played," the Nets' interim head coach said via conference call on Friday afternoon, 15 hours removed from a 95-92 Game 6 victory which forced Saturday's do-or-die affair. "We certainly can't think that we have done the hard part already. What's left is gonna be more difficult than the last two games. I think that's gonna be a challenge tomorrow."
Poor play in the middle two quarters of a Game 3 loss, followed two days later by the loss in Game 4, which the Nets led by 14 points with less than three minutes to play in regulation, left the Nets reeling and fighting to save the season.
They picked themselves up and put together a 19-point win in Game 5 at home, a solid performance on both ends of the floor rivaled in this series only by a 17-point win to open the series.
A fast start in Game 6 for both sides quickly deteriorated into a war of attrition. Ravaged by injury and illness, the Bulls hung tough throughout, but could never get over the hump without key guys and with the Nets digging in on defense in crunch time.
"The atmosphere will be totally different in the building, in the locker room, when the ball gets thrown up," Carlesimo said. "I think the best device for us is that they welcome it and they're looking forward to it. You certainly can't be afraid of it and I don't think it's something you over-think. I think they understand the importance of this game. They need to be relaxed, they need to go out and play the way they're capable of playing."
Carlesimo noted that everyone should be a go for Game 7. Joe Johnson has hobbled his way through a case of plantar fasciitis for the last three games and aside from that, Carlesimo said other guys have 'specific injuries' and one unnamed player is actually sick with the flu.
A flu bug swept through the Bulls recently, costing them big on Thursday. Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson toughed out Game 6, but Luol Deng was sent home after he showed up to the United Center in bad shape. CSNChicago.com reported Thursday night that the All-Star small forward spent Wednesday evening in an emergency room to undergo medical tests, including a spinal tap, to ensure that he didn’t have viral meningitis.
Those sicknesses are in addition to Joakim Noah dealing with plantar fasciitis and Kirk Hinrich being hobbled by a calf ailment. Hinrich missed Games 5 and 6, forcing Robinson into extended action at the point.
The news out of Chicago on Friday afternoon had Robinson and Gibson feeling better and set for Game 7. Hinrich will travel with the team to Brooklyn as a game-time decision, but Deng, who is still said to be very sick, may not even travel.
Whoever comes out on top late Saturday night is in for a tough reality check soon after the final buzzer. The winner will have to turn right around and travel to South Beach to play the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday evening. The reigning NBA champions have been idle since completing a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.
For the record, the Nets lost all three regular season meetings to the Heat by an average of 21 points per game.
"We know they're there, they've been there and they had to go through Milwaukee, but the feeling has been for sure that your reward, if you can win this series, is you're playing the best team in the league," Carlesimo said. "That's a great opportunity, but if you start thinking about the next series, you're not gonna be in the next series."
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA