We got a teaser at the end of episode #6 of “The Last Dance” that should make old New Jersey Nets fans ill. The docu-series, which has done a great job of covering almost every key moment in Michael Jordan’s career with the Chicago Bulls from 1984 to his eventual retirement after his 6th and final championship in 1998, will showcase the 1st round playoff series in 1998 between the Chicago Bulls and New Jersey Nets.
The Nets came into the series a heavy underdog but had a good amount of talent on their roster. Playing for New Jersey at the time was talented big man Jayson Williams, veteran scoring point guard Sam Cassell, a 23-year-old shooting guard in Kerry Kittles, and veteran swingman Kendall Gill. Key role players included Chris Gatling, Sherman Douglas, Keith Van Horn, and Lucious Harris.
The 1st game ended up going into OT and it looked like the Nets had a serious chance to win. With 41 seconds left, the score was tied at 91 apiece. Kerry Kittles was stripped clean by Michael Jordan near the top of the key, who took the ball the length of the court and finished with an emphatic dunk. Jordan was fouled by Kendall Gill as he slammed it home. The Nets would not recover from that play and go on to lose the game by a final of 96 – 93. Michael finished with 39 points and Scottie Pippen netted 24 points and 7 rebounds for Chicago. For the Nets, Chris Gatling led the way with 24 points.
In Game 2, the Nets got down big early, scoring less than 20 points in each of the first 2 quarters. They outscored the Bulls after halftime and made a solid push to come back, only to fold again down the stretch, losing the game 96 – 91. At one point during the Game 2 broadcast, Bob Costas said about the Nets, “and at least they’ve been competitive in these first two games.” Jordan finished with 32 points while the leading man for the Nets was Kerry Kittles with 23 points.
In the 3rd game, the Nets had zero gas left in the tank. They were blown out by the Bulls, 116 – 101, losing every quarter except the 4th (they were +2). Jordan, in his final game against the Nets as a Bull, poured in 38 points in a dominant performance while Scott Burrell chipped in with 23 points as well. 5 players on the Nets scored in double figures that game – Sherman Douglas had 19 points, Chris Gatling and Keith Van Horn both finished with 18 points, Kerry Kittles had 16 points and Kendall Gill had 17 points, but it wasn’t enough to challenge the team in Chicago. The Nets had zero answers for MJ, who seemed to score with ease against the New Jersey squad the entire series.
The Nets would go on to miss the playoffs the next three seasons before entirely revamping their front office and roster. This shakeup, and acquisition of point guard Jason Kidd from the Phoenix Suns would lead to back to back NBA finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. Three players from the 1997 -98 playoff team – Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn, and Lucious Harris – remained on the roster for all or part of those Finals runs.