The Brooklyn Nets are down, both figuratively and literally.
But are they out?
After suffering one of the more excruciatingly painful losses to the Chicago Bulls that you will ever see in a basketball game—after being up 14 with less than four minutes left to play in the fourth quarter—the Brooklyn Nets lost and now find themselves down 3-1 to the Chicago Bulls.
But they may still have the ability to climb out of the deficit.
Though they have only won one game in the series, a C.J. Watson 3-pointer in Game 3 could have sent it to overtime, and any number of shots in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and three overtimes of Game 4 could have won it.
The Nets could just as easily be up 3-1 right now. And it is up to P.J. Carlesimo to sell his team on that message.
In Monday's Game 5 at Barclays Center, the Nets must come out in attack mode and rediscover the fire and passion that helped them win Game 1.
Center Brook Lopez has lived up to his All-Star status, averaging 23.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks per game for the series, and the Chicago Bulls have had little success in slowing him down. If the Nets are to win Game 5 and earn a trip back to Chicago for a Game 6, they need health doses of Lopez, because he has been the most consistent force for the Nets.
To put it lightly, Deron Williams has been inconsistent, and we saw that in Game 4. Williams started out as a house on fire, scoring 30 points in the first 44 minutes of the game, but was limited to only two points in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter and three overtimes.
He, too, needs to step up.
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It is difficult to ask for more from Joe Johnson, who has battled injury and came through in the clutch for the Nets.
But Gerald Wallace, who always gives the Nets energy on defense, also would need to continue playing well after turning in what could be a breakout performance in Game 4. His minimal offensive performances in Game 2 and Game 3, where he combined for only seven points, must be a thing of the past.
Fortunately, for the Nets, Carlesimo seemed to realize that there is a pro to not having Wallace and Reggie Evans on the floor at the same time. Offensively, those two have been abysmal—Game 4 aside.
C.J. Watson, playing against his former team, has shot just 25 percent in the last two games, and if he gets off to a slow start, then Carlesimo cannot wait to sit him in Game 5. If he continues to play poorly, Andray Blatche—who has played well—should get more minutes. The lack of size for the Bulls, especially when Joakim Noah is not in the game, could make a Blatche even more effective playing alongside Lopez.
For the Nets, the season is on the verge of ending, and after an impressive win in Game 1, a loss in five or six games would be very disappointing. Over the last two games, there have been some high-highs and some low-lows for the Nets.
Now, they need leadership. And most importantly, they need to believe that they are the better team and are capable of erasing this tough deficit.
Fortunately, selling the team on that idea should not be too difficult. The Nets could not have played a worse offensive game in Game 3, yet only lost by three points. In Game 4, they were just 3:45 away from bringing a tied series back to Brooklyn.
If the Nets continue with the same effort, if Carlesimo juggles his rotation appropriately, and if the Nets get more consistent contribution from their key players, they are easily capable of winning Game 5 and Game 6.
That may be a long way away and it obviously starts with getting a victory on Monday. But with two of what would be the final three games of the series potentially being played in Brooklyn, it is appropriate to say that the Nets, though down, are not out.