Brooklyn Nets Playoff History Not Overflowing With Highlights

The Brooklyn Nets are in the NBA playoffs for the third consecutive season. It’s the sixth time in the nine years since they moved from New Jersey in 2012. The Nets finished 2020–21 with their best winning percentage since coming to Brooklyn. The pace would have resulted in 55 victories in a regular 82-game season. But their playoff history in the borough has precious few highlights.

Brooklyn’s first-round matchup with the Boston Celtics marks the second time the Nets have home-court advantage for any series since the move. In 2013, the Chicago Bulls knocked them out in a first-round Game 7 at Barclays Center. Brooklyn has never advanced past the conference semifinals.

Their second-round visit came in 2014, just after the Nets won their only series since coming to Brooklyn.

Controversial trade led to a series-winning moment for the Brooklyn Nets

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The Brooklyn Nets opened the 2013–14 season with optimism after pulling off a massive trade to kick off their offseason. The deal was a controversial one. General manager Billy King traded five players, three first-round picks, and two first-round pick swaps to the Boston Celtics for future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The Nets got two other players in the deal along with a second-round selection.

For the long term, the trade was an unmitigated disaster for the Nets. It was mitigated a bit by the Celtics whiffing on the selection of James Young. Boston also traded away the 2017 and 2018 first-round selections.

Brooklyn finished behind the Toronto Raptors in second place in the Atlantic Division. The teams met in the first round after the Raptors won the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Nets took the sixth spot. The series went the distance, with Brooklyn riding a 104–103 win in Game 7 into the conference semifinals. 

Pierce saved the series for the Nets, blocking Kyle Lowry’s short jumper with one second remaining to seal the victory. Against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, Brooklyn won Game 3 at home but bowed out in five games.

Three straight first-round exits by the Nets

Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors in the NBA Playoffs
Caris LeVert and the Brooklyn Nets were no match for the Toronto Raptors during the 2020 NBA Playoffs. | Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images

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In 2014–15, the Brooklyn Nets had enough firepower to finish 38–44 and grab the eighth seed in the East. They pushed the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks to six games. Brooklyn missed the next three postseasons before a surprising playoff run in 2018–19. That Brooklyn squad, headlined by D’Angelo Russell, won Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers before losing the next four games.

In the Orlando bubble last year, the depleted Nets played without Spencer Dinwiddie or superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. They were squashed in four straight games by the Raptors.

In all, Brooklyn has won just one of the six series the team has played since leaving New Jersey. But there was success in the team’s more distant past.

ABA titles on Long Island and NBA Finals in New Jersey before becoming the Brooklyn Nets

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The Brooklyn Nets trace their roots to the dawning of the old American Basketball Association in 1967. Initially, the team was supposed to play in New York. The New York Knicks put enough pressure on other arenas to drive the franchise to Teaneck, per Remember the ABA. After one season, the team became the Nets and moved to Long Island. The New York Nets won two of the last three ABA championships (1974 and 1976).

In the NBA, the team played in Uniondale, New York, for just one season before moving back to New Jersey.

Over 35 years in Jersey, the Nets made 16 postseason appearances and reached the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. The Los Angeles Lakers swept them in 2002, and they lost in six games to the San Antonio Spurs the following season. In 1984, New Jersey pulled off one of the biggest upsets in playoff history, beating the defending champion 76ers in the first round by winning three times in Philadelphia. (Yes, that does mean they lost both games of the best-of-five series at home.)

Besides its Finals trips, the franchise hasn’t gone past the second round since jumping to the NBA in 1976. The star-studded Brooklyn Nets will look to rewrite some of that less-than-stellar history when the playoffs open this weekend.

Franchise information courtesy of Basketball Reference.