8. 1971-72 New York Nets
In their first four ABA seasons, the New York Nets had not had a winning season and had been bounced from the playoffs in the first round (the division semifinals) twice.
That changed in 1971-72 as the Nets, under former and future St. John’s coaching legend Lou Carnesecca — in his second year with New York — took advantage of having a healthy Rick Barry for the only time and finished 44-40.
More from Nets All-Time Lists
- 15 Players the Brooklyn Nets gave up on way too soon
- 5 best scorers in Brooklyn Nets history
- Brooklyn Nets: Ranking the franchise’s all-time Big 3s
- Nets: 3 highest single-game scoring performances in team history
- 3 best draft steals in recent Nets history
Barry was the Nets’ workhorse, averaging 45.2 minutes a game and finishing second in the ABA with an average of 31.5 points per game.
But the Nets were not deep and when Melchionni went down late in the regular season with a broken finger and New York was considered to be doomed when they met the powerful Kentucky Colonels in the Eastern Division Semifinals.
The Nets finished third in the East, but in those days the ABA continued a weird trend that the NBA had used in the late 1960s. The division playoffs were seeded as a No. 3 vs. No. 1 and No. 4 vs. No. 2 affair.
So instead of getting the second-place Virginia Squires, who had finished a game ahead of the Nets in the regular season, New York drew the shortest-possible straw.
The Kentucky Colonels won an ABA-record 68 games behind Rookie of the Year and ABA MVP Artis Gilmore and scoring champ Dan Issel and were considered favorites to not just beat, but sweep, the Melchionni-less Nets.
But in Game 1 at Louisville’s Freedom Hall, Barry dropped 50 on the Colonels and Roche, starting for Melchionni at the point, finished with 31 points and eight assists as the Nets stunned Kentucky 122-108.
That came after New York was just 3-8 against Kentucky during the regular season, including dropping all five at Freedom Hall.
Barry followed that up with 35 points in Game 2, while Roche dropped in another 31 in a 105-90 Nets win. New York was heading back to their new homecourt in Uniondale with a shocking 2-0 lead over the vaunted Colonels.
Barry’s 39 points in Game 3 wasn’t enough, as Gilmore and Walter Simon combined for 50 points and Kentucky came back with a 105-99 win.
With Barry out for Game 4 with strep throat, the Nets were doomed — supposedly. But Roche erupted for 38 points and reserve Johnny Baum played 48 minutes in place of Barry and finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds and New York had a 3-1 lead.
Barry returned for Game 5, but the Colonels finally won at home, 109-93.
Roche carried the load in Game 6, scoring 32 points in 48 minutes, while Paultz went for 17 points and 19 rebounds to play Gilmore to a standstill and the Nets shocked the ABA world by eliminating Kentucky, 101-96.
Against Virginia in the Division Finals, the Nets were blown out in Game 1 at Richmond 138-91 as Julius Erving went for 26 points for the Squires. Virginia went up 2-0 in the series two nights later with a 115-106 win at Norfolk behind 38 from Erving.
The series then took a nine-day break while an ice show held court at Nassau Coliseum. The Nets opted to not play if they couldn’t play at night.
The break allowed Melchionni to return from his injury and he scored 20 points in Game 3, which the Nets won on Barry’s layup with eight seconds left, 119-117.
Barry scored 33 points in a 118-107 Game 4 win to even the series. But Erving went off for 24 points and 32 rebounds in Game 5 and Virginia took a 116-107 win.
Barry had 43 points, Roche dropped 37 and Paultz scored 33 as the Nets won a track meet at home in Game 6, 146-136. In Game 7 at Norfolk, Barry had 27 points and the Nets held off Virginia 94-88 to reach their first ABA Finals.
The Nets pushed the defending champion Indiana Pacers to six games before falling.
Barry and Malchionni were All-Stars for New York and both earned first-team All-ABA honors, while Roche made the All-Rookie team.
Barry returned to the NBA that summer and the Nets fell to 30 wins the following season.