With loss to Celtics, Nets eliminated from playoffs

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BOSTON — Hope was over long before the game was. The Nets needed a miracle to make the playoffs. They needed to rely on the Knicks and other teams to help them out and they had to run the table.

But early on last night, the Knicks were down 30-9 to Detroit. The Pistons have struggled but they’re not going to let the Knicks come back from that.

So as the Nets were fighting the Celtics to the end, they were already eliminated for the second straight year. Predictably, the Knicks didn’t help them and in the end the Nets didn’t help themselves.

They lost, 106-104, to Boston in a game that mirrored so many the Nets have played this season and especially the last six weeks. They were up, then down, then battled back and were within a shot of winning the game.

How many times have you seen this game? How many times have the Nets played this game? Since March 1 the Nets have played 14 that were close in the fourth and could have gone either way. They won three and lost 11.

“Tonight kind of speaks a lot for the whole season,” Devin Harris said. “I thought we played well for half, a little bit more than half the game. But defensively we didn’t get the stops that we needed at the end of the game, and the shots woul dn’t fall for us.

“It’s disappointing because obviously we were picked last but we had high hopes coming into the season.”

Vince Carter missed a go-ahead three with about eight seconds left and Harris a game-tying long two with right before the buzzer. Maybe if the Nets won it would have taken some of the sting out of not making the playoffs, but for the most part the locker room was quiet.

Carter was upset. He wanted to captain this team to the postseason.They lasted longer than anyone expected for anyone looking for small victories.

Harris was upset. He came from Dallas, where you played deep into the postseason every year. Veteran Jarvis Hayes was very down. Coach Lawrence Frank couldn’t reflect on it yet. He only wanted to talk about the game.

This was inevitable, but it still hurts because you think anything is possible. Still, the Nets knew the odds were long and they put themselves in this position by not winning games they should have won and not being able to close out games.

Overall, though, the Nets have a bright future with Harris and rookie center Brook Lopez, fellow rookies Ryan Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts. Veterans Keyon Dooling and Hayes gave the second unit stability and Dooling has been very good as a starter.

The Nets have to figure out how Yi Jianlian fits in. They will add a draft pick, try to sign some players and make some trades so they avoid missing the playoffs for a third straight season.

They wanted this year to end by making all those who picked them to finish near at the bottom of the Eastern Conference eat crow. The Nets had their chances. And even though they stayed in the race longer than anyone thought, there were many long faces, blank stares and heads shaking in the Nets’ locker room.

Collectively they shouldn’t forget how it felt and what led to this. They had their chances and they know it.

Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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