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A tumultuous season filled with one colossal challenge after another has come down to the clichés for Steve Nash and the Nets.
The road to their current predicament in a first-round playoff series against the Celtics has been filled with potholes — from Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated for COVID-19, to Kevin Durant’s midseason knee injury, to the February trade of James Harden and the continued absence of his replacement, Ben Simmons.
The Nets now must somehow overcome slumps by Durant and Irving and improbably attempt to become the first team in NBA history to climb out of an 0-3 hole in a best-of-7 playoff series beginning with Game 4 Monday night at Barclays Center.
“We go to Barclays to try and win a game and enjoy the heck out of it,” Nash said after a walk-through practice Sunday in Brooklyn. “That’s way better than not having this opportunity. I think for our group it’s trying to find that resolve and that belief.”
The first three games against the ball-hawking Celtics haven’t provided much reason to believe the Nets can win the proverbial “one game at a time” four separate times — including twice in Boston.
The numbers are daunting: Of the 143 teams to fall behind by three games in NBA playoff history, 89 were swept and zero came back to win their series.
Only five teams in professional sports — the 2004 Red Sox against the Yankees in the ALCS and four NHL teams (1942 Maple Leafs, 1975 Islanders, 2010 Flyers and 2014 Kings) — have accomplished the feat.
“I think you have to have perspective always in life,” Nash said. “It looks ominous, 0-3. … So you have to always remind yourselves that you can’t play three games in one. You play one, try to win the game. And try to find that belief and perspective that it is one game, we’ll play a good game and let the chips fall.”
Simmons had been targeting Game 4 for his first game of the season, but the Nets ruled him out Sunday on their official injury report due to the back injury the three-time All-Star has been dealing with since he was acquired Feb. 10 from Philadelphia in the Harden blockbuster.
Nash also declined to consider how the season might have played out differently had Irving gotten vaccinated for COVID-19. The seven-time All-Star began the season away from the team before returning to play only in road games in January. Irving didn’t make his home debut until Mayor Eric Adams authorized an exception for athletes and performers in late March.
“I don’t think about it,” Nash said. “That’s not realistic. It’s not a worthy exercise. We deal with what’s in front of us. We deal in reality. And our reality is the one we’re facing and if you don’t face that reality with honesty and presence you’re not going to get anywhere.”
The reality of the series for the Nets has been that Irving and Durant were held by Boston’s top-rated defense to a combined 8-for-30 shooting night in Game 2 and to 16 points apiece in Game 3.
Still, the Nets lost by one in Game 1 on a last-second drive by Jayson Tatum. They also blew a 17-point lead in Game 2 before losing by six at home on Saturday.
“We’ve lost three games by maybe a little over four points as an average. So it’s all possible and we just have to find the resolve,” Nash said. “It’s a tricky season for us. We’ve faced a million things, we’ve had no continuity and we’re a brand new group playing against a team that has had a lot of games together going back years. They’re playing their best basketball and have really evolved under [coach] Ime [Udoka] and we’re in a different position.
“We have to embrace it and we have to enjoy it and we have to take a swing at the game [Monday] night with the best spirit and attitude that we can muster.”