The home team wasn't going to win every game in the NBA playoffs, anyway. The defiant and defensive-minded Chicago Bulls also might've been the easiest to predict as the first visitors to get a postseason victory after higher seeds went 8-0 in Game 1s over the weekend.
But the Brooklyn Nets' unenviable draw in the postseason got tougher after they dropped Game 2 of their first-round series against the Bulls at Barclays Center on Monday. Even if it was merely a wake-up call, it was a reminder that their playoff challenge is more than just the opponent in front of them.
All season long, the Nets have played in the shadow of the outsized expectations of their ownership. The franchise spent nearly $330 million last offseason for one reason alone: to prove that a championship could be bought in the NBA. The roster, however, always had the credentials of a team that would predictably fall short. Deron Williams, while elite, is no longer a frontrunner in the discussion of the league's best point guards. Brook Lopez hasn't yet matched his offense skill level at center with a dominant defensive presence. Joe Johnson is the symbol of Atlanta Hawks teams that have been middling in the postseason.
The sum is a streaky squad during the regular season that has been exactly that, both good and bad, in the first two games against Chicago. In the Nets' Game 1 victory, they shot 16-for-20 in the second quarter. In their Game 2 loss, they went 2-for-19 in the third period.
It may be that the Bulls simply mustered an extraordinary amount of effort and heart, personified by Joakim Noah, who is essentially playing on borrowed time due to plantar fasciitis. It's also what the Bulls have done all season without Derrick Rose, showing the kind of confidence that their star player hasn't yet regained enough to return to the court.
Aspiring to the Bulls' level of blind belief and desire is the best way for the Nets to ascend past their own limitations. The alternative could be an as-early-as-possible postseason exit that says more about them than their opponents.
- Craig Stouffer