Sometime in the third quarter, as the Philadelphia 76ers rained down 3-pointers like mortar shots and Ben Simmons, a giant point guard possessed of preternatural passing ability and a bricklayer’s touch, carved through Nets, a thought occurred:
This was not the playoff homecoming of the Nets’ dreams.
The Nets tried but never really contended Thursday night. The men from Philadelphia simply had too much talent and too many big bodies, and that was a shame. Saddled with the worst attendance in the N.B.A. this season, Barclays Center in Brooklyn was packed to the gills with fans waving towels and hooting and yelling. The joint was packed and joyfully rocking.
The Nets are a pretty good pro hoops team in a city where terrible often rules the roost. Their coach, Kenny Atkinson, a likable and intelligent basketball lifer, took a team expected to dwell in the cellar and won more games, 42, than it lost, 40.
That was in contrast to the disaster masquerading as a basketball team at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks’ management team crafted a grotesquely bad team that finished 17-65. (Losing no longer impresses because the Knicks have posted losing records in 15 of the last 18 years.) In a sign that God may have a strange sense of humor, those same Knicks are widely rumored to be a favorite to gain the services of the brilliant forward Kevin Durant, who can become a free agent this summer.
But enough about that other New York team.
After falling into a deep ditch under previous management, the Brooklyn Nets have executed a slow, steady rebuild, instilling discipline and a sense of Nets basketball, which is to say a fluid, slashing style that relies on small forwards and guards bolstered by lean, swift centers who block shots and rebound and run. Their general manager, Sean Marks, a former San Antonio Spurs assistant and executive, has picked up talented role players much as a fishmonger sorts through a barrel and plucks out tasty sea bass.