5. 1975-76 New York Nets
The New York Nets won a franchise-record 58 games in 1974-75, but a shocking five-game loss to the Spirits of St. Louis prompted an extreme makeover in the offseason.
Before the ABA Draft, All-Star power forward Larry Kenon was traded to the San Antonio Spurs for All-Star center Swen Nater and in September another deal with the Spurs sent long-time big man Billy Paultz in exchange for a package headed by veteran forward Rich Jones and rookie center Kim Hughes.
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New York got off to an uneven start as the ABA disintegrated around the club. The league lost the relocated Memphis Sounds, who tied to make a go in Baltimore, in the preseason and by December, the Sails and Utah Stars had folded as well.
New York righted the ship in mid-November, putting together a run of 15 wins in 19 games to move into second place behind the powerful Denver Nuggets, who had won 65 games the previous season before adding Dan Issel from the failing Baltimore Claws and super-rookie David Thompson.
The Nets and Spurs battled for the second spot the rest of the way before New York took control with eight wins in their final 10 games.
With the league down to seven teams by season’s end, a revamped playoff format advanced the top three finishers (Denver, New York and San Antonio) to the semifinals.
That meant the Nets and Spurs would meet for a shot at the ABA Finals. New York won Game 1 at Uniondale before the Spurs blasted the Nets 105-79 in Game 2.
The teams traded wins at San Antonio’s HemisFair Arena, with the Nets pulling out a 110-108 win in Game 4. Back in Uniondale, they won Game 5 by the same score before the Spurs won Game 6 at home, 106-105.
San Antonio had lost All-ABA guard James Silas to a gruesome broken ankle in Game 1 and the Nets wore down the depleted Spurs in Game 7, returning to the ABA Finals for the third time in five years with a 121-114 win in Game 7.
Denver, meanwhjle, slugged past the defending champion Kentucky Colonels in a seven-game semifinal series to set up a Nets-Nuggets battle for the title.
The Nets drew first blood, winning Game 1 at McNichols Sports Arena, 120-118 behind 45 points and 12 rebounds from ABA MVP Julius Erving. Erving’s 48 in Game 2 wasn’t enough, as the balanced Nuggets had four player score at least 20 points in a 127-121 win.
Erving had 31 points and John Williamson added 28 in a 117-111 win at home in Game 3 and Erving poured in 34 in a 121-112 Game 4 win that put the Nets on the verge of the title.
Denver scratched out a 118-110 win at home in Game 5 to send the series back to Long Island.
In Game 6, the Nets erased a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, holding the high-flying Nuggets to just 14 points in the final period en route to a 112-106 win as Erving went for 31 points and 19 rebounds, Williamson added 28 points and Brian Taylor tossed in 24.
It was the Nets’ second title in three seasons, with Erving picking up his third straight MVP honor to go with another All-Star berth and selections to the first-team All-ABA and All-Defensive teams. Taylor was also an All-Star and All-Defensive pick.
The ABA and NBA agreed to the structure of a merger in June 1976, with the deal finalized on Aug. 5 of that year, with the Nets, Nuggets, Spurs and Indiana Pacers admitted to the NBA.