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Monday, May 12
 
Nets believe they're (NBA) championship caliber

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

BOSTON -- When the marathon finally ended and the New Jersey Nets were victorious, they jumped, yelled and cheered like third-graders who had been awarded an extra hour of recess.

A skipping Kenyon Martin raised both arms above his head and screeched at an almost deafening pitch. Jumping his way down the Fleet Center hallway, Richard Jefferson pumped his fist in the air and yelled, "History." And Jason Kidd? Boston enemy No. 1? He stopped outside the Nets' locker room to do a quick three-question interview with New York television reporters desperately in need of a sound bite for the soon-to-be-over nightly news.

Kenyon Martin
Kenyon Martin and the Nets are still hanging around after two rounds in the playoffs.
"He doesn't usually do that," one of the cameramen said. "He must be in a really good mood."

All the Nets were. But the most telling moment of their post-game sweep celebration came seven minutes later, when the locker room door opened, the cheering stopped, the base-filled, wall-rattling music was turned down and the Nets treated their 110-101 double overtime win like it was any other game.

They even laughed at suggestions that Boston is a difficult place to play. "Says who?" Jefferson asked. "Have we not had success here? I don't know what you're talking about."

So even though they became the first team to sweep a playoff opponent this year, the first Nets team to ever sweep a playoff series and the second NBA team to sweep the Celtics in a seven-game series, the Nets want to get one thing clear: They're not even remotely satisfied. This time, you see, only one goal will suffice -- going all the way.

"I think we can win it this year," forward Kenyon Martin said after Monday's win. "We got there (to the Finals) last year, but that's not good enough. We think we can do it. Now we just have to go out there and prove it."

Laugh if you must. But it was Martin who definitively told his teammates prior to Game 4 that they weren't leaving Boston without the series in hand. And it was head coach Byron Scott who set just one satisfactory goal for his team when they left New Jersey up 2-0 last Wednesday.

"Our mission was to come here and win both," he said. "That's the honest to goodness truth. That's all we talked about in the locker room."

Obviously, it's just the Celtics. Antoine Walker had a mediocre series. Paul Pierce was banged up. And other than Tony Delk here and Eric Williams there, nobody else seemed eager to step up for Boston.

But it's still the playoffs. And few teams seem to be playing as well as New Jersey. Consider Monday's Game 4, when the Celtics threw everything they could at the Nets, but still fell short.

Delk scored 23 points. Williams added 18. Walker shot better than 50 percent. The Celtics outrebounded New Jersey by five. They had two less turnovers. They blocked two more shots. They got to the free-throw line two more times.

Yet, in the number that mattered most, they lost. By nine.

"Great teams find a way to win," Nets guard Lucious Harris said. "Now, we have the experience. We've been here before.

"Tonight wasn't one of our best nights. We weren't flowing on offense like we did in Game 3. So we relied on our defense. And that carried us."

When they did need a basket, options were plentiful. Martin scored all seven New Jersey points in the first overtime. But Kerry Kittles, Jefferson, Kidd and Martin all contributed in the second overtime.

"You lose an emotional overtime game like this and maybe you start to have doubts," Kidd said after the game. "Maybe that opens the door for them. But everybody stepped up and made sure that didn't happen."

I think we can win it this year. We got there (to the Finals) last year, but that's not good enough. We think we can do it. Now we just have to go out there and prove it.
Kenyon Martin

Each time the Celtics made a run, the Nets seemed to counter. When their shots stopped falling in the third quarter, they worked their way to the free-throw line. When they needed a defensive stand at the end of regulation or overtime, they got it. Backs against the wall, they always seemed to have an answer.

"They're a very focused group," Walker said. "We made our runs, they countered it. When you get to the Finals, I'm sure their mindset is to get back there. They're just such a focused group right now."

And the Nets go nine deep, plus Dikembe Mutombo, who barely played against the Celtics, but will be invaluable should the Nets meet up with Los Angeles or San Antonio in the NBA Finals.

Then there's the emergence of Martin and Jefferson. Both players are a year wiser, a year better than they were during last year's playoff run. Both have improved their perimeter shooting. And both are now go-to guys when the Nets need a basket.

"When they were making the 15- and 17-footer, it was very surprising," Walker said. "And it wasn't just one game -- it was throughout the series."

On Monday, Martin had just four points at the half, but finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. And he was a nightmare for Walker on defense.

"He is taking his game to the next level," Scott said. "He is definitely a bona-fide superstar in this league. The sky's the limit for Kenyon Martin."

Combined with Kidd, perhaps the sky's the limit for the Nets. Remember, they swept the Celtics with the Bob Ryan/Joumana Kidd circus hovering above them. They swept the Celtics with their head coach insinuating that Boston is a racist city. And they swept the Celtics amidst obnoxious and overbearing chants of "wife-beater" and "racist" constantly directed at them.

Yet not once did the Nets seem fazed. Monday night, after the game was over and Kidd had showered and put on his suit, he was forced to wait for Walker before he could take questions at the media podium. But he didn't think twice about it, instead grabbing a chair and quietly sitting by himself in a Fleet Center corner, where he thumbed through an issue of "Celtic Insider" that was sitting next to him.

Though his eyes were looking at the past, his mind was focused on the future.

"We were sitting in the seat to come out and make history by sweeping the Celtics," Kidd said. "We got a chance to engrave our names on that. But this series is done. And now we have to get ready for the next."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com.

 



 

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