For the Nets — or what’s left of them — the craziest campaign in NBA history ended Sunday at the hands of the Raptors. It remains to be seen if interim coach Jacque Vaughn’s stay ended with it.
The season started by adding Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last summer, and tipped off amidst an international incident in China. It paused for 4 ½ months for the coronavirus pandemic, and, for the Nets, it ended Sunday.
A 150-122 first-round Game 4 mauling saw the Nets swept out of the playoffs by the defending champions at the Field House.
The threadbare Nets — playing without eight of their top 10 players — were outmanned from the start and ousted at the end. The two stalwarts were solid — Caris LeVert pouring in a game-high 35 points, six assists and six rebounds, and Jarrett Allen contributed 15 boards and two blocks. But they had too little help.
Tyler Johnson — who had been waived by Phoenix in February and was seeing his NBA career sputter — mustered 13 points, but Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Chris Chiozza shot a combined 4-of-21 and the Nets’ defense was non-existent.
Even with the Raptors losing Kyle Lowry to an early ankle injury and dealing with Fred VanVleet’s foul woes, their vaunted bench scored 100 points. Norman Powell had a team-high 29 points, while Serge Ibaka added 27 points and 15 boards, hitting 12 of 14 shots as Toronto shot 55.4 percent.
Meanwhile, Vaughn coached his final game as the Nets’ interim coach. But with a 7-3 mark heading into the playoffs his status for next season is up in the air, with general manager Sean Marks expected to promptly begin the coaching search in earnest now that the season is over.
“We just carry on every day,” Vaughn said before the game. “I show up, coach this team, really embrace this moment. No conversations besides what I had for breakfast, and we’ll keep it that simple.”
The game was essentially over after a tight first quarter that saw 11 lead changes and three ties.
Lowry came down awkwardly with 3:08 left in the first, but tried to play through the pain. He gave a foul with 2:48 remaining and hobbled right off the floor and into the locker room area.
The Nets trailed by just a point 40 seconds later at 30-29 on Dzanan Musa free throws. But they proceeded to cough up an extended 34-18 run to see the game blown wide open.
Brooklyn trailed 64-47 after Matt Thomas’ pull-up jumper off a feed from Pascal Siakam (20 points, 10 assists). They tried to rally with a 16-6 run, and Allen’s free throws with 1:37 in the half got them within seven — but no closer.
The second half became garbage time, with the Nets trailing by 29 to end the third quarter and 33 in the fourth.
It’s hard to assess Vaughn with this threadbare roster, which lost Joe Harris after Game 2 with his grandmother passing away.
Still, Vaughn said he’s had a golden opportunity to state his case.
“Overall, the relationships that go on on an everyday basis — from management to coaches to performance team to players — those things can be revealed now and going in the future,” Vaughn said. “Those get established.
“How I coach on an everyday basis, my interaction with players, my ability to be authentic, having intent with players. Those things become evident when you’re around each other. There’s no hiding from that. So it’s been a great opportunity for me just to be who I am and reveal what kind of coach I am.”
The Nets will look different next season. Harris, Johnson, Chiozza and Wilson Chandler are all free agents, with Marks having confirmed resigning Harris is priority No. 1. The Nets hold a team option on Garrett Temple, while Luwawu-Cabarrot’s minimum deal is non-guaranteed. Even Jamal Crawford, who logged just five minutes as a replacement, could be up for a camp invite. “A lot of memories. Hopefully, these guys will be able to look back on this time in their life and see how special it was,” said Vaughn. “I think we’re forever linked, whether it is remembering a practice, whether it is remembering a game, whether it’s remembering time spent together, meals, golfing, fishing, all of the above.
“It’s been very special in the sense that we’ve had a few of our guys who are able to continue this together, hopefully, in the future, but at the same time be a part of something special just because of the circumstances.”