5. Back-to-Back Finals: 2002 and 2003
At the start of the new millennium, New Jersey saw a revival after constructing a team that was complete with young, athletic players with a defense-first mentality; the offense wasn’t as noteworthy, but they could light up the scoreboard from time to time.
In 2001-02, Byron Scott coached the Nets to a 52-30 record that landed them the first overall seed in the playoffs. The following year, New Jersey finished at 49-33 and earned a second overall seeding. The team finished fifth in points per game allowed (92.0) in 2002 and second (90.1) the following season. Great defensive teams typically see greater playoff success. Jason Kidd, who was a walking triple-double, spearheaded their first trip to the Finals. In the 16 games leading up to the Finals, Kidd was averaging 19.3 points, 8.9 assists, and 8.4 boards per contest.
Unfortunately, the magic ended there. The Shaq and Kobe Lakers were too much and swept the Nets. However, the Shobe Lakers were too much for a lot of teams, but only one game was a blowout.
The subsequent year was very similar to the first: decent offense with incredible lockdown defense. Keith Van Horn was gone, but the rest of the squad remained. Richard Jefferson seamlessly transitioned into the open spot left by Van Horn. Once the playoffs started, however, New Jersey elevated their game and marched into the Finals nearly unblemished. Milwaukee, who boasted a very solid roster, was the only East team to hand the Nets a loss in the playoffs, and they stole two games.
After that, though, it was an eight-game tear through the Celtics and Pistons before meeting San Antonio for the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Nets and Spurs faced off in six defensive slugfests, but San Antonio came out ahead in six games thanks to Tim Duncan being in both his offensive and defensive prime.
Next: No. 4