On Monday night, a sellout crowd at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., bid its farewell to the Nets franchise. After a 35-year partnership, the team played its last home game in Jersey before it moves to Brooklyn, N.Y., for the 2012-13 NBA season and beyond. The Nets celebrated their New Jersey history and honored the 2001-02 Eastern Conference championship season during halftime, but it was the Philadelphia 76ers who were clearly more motivated and equipped to win the actual game. After a tumultuous second half of the season that turned a 20-9 early season darling into a 31-30 drama-filled doomsday machine, Philly finally clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket (R.I.P. Milwaukee Bucks) with a 105-87 victory over the Nets.
The first quarter undercut any hope New Jersey may have had about ending everything with a win. Then again, expectations couldn't have been too high with Deron Williams (sore right calf) still on the shelf or Sundiata Gaines and Jordan Williams in the starting five. Anyhow, after the Nets scored the first three points of the game -- their only lead of the entire evening -- Philadelphia responded with a 15-2 in the first five minutes to set the tone for the night. Andre Iguodala put in eight of his 12 points and dished out three of his nine assists during a 31-point first quarter for Philly, but it was a flawless 6-6 start from the bench (Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Louis Williams) that sustained the margin in the period. A lot more of the same followed in the final three quarters.
The bench quintet of Williams (11), Turner (13), Thaddeus Young (15), Allen (9) and Hawes (8) combined for 56 points on 64.1 percent shooting, and although the bench outscored the starters, Elton Brand (15), Jrue Holiday (15) and Iguodala (14) still emerged as the three leading scorers for the night. Iggy kind of flirted with a triple-double as he scored 14, dished out nine assists and grabbed seven rebounds, but it never quite materialized with the right mix.
It didn't really matter though. Philadelphia just took care of business and punched its ticket to the postseason. Head coach Doug Collins said he will rest Brand, Iguodala and probably Lou Williams for the final two regular season games now that they are finally in the tournament. Probably a good idea after the team avoided some close calls on Monday night when Jrue Holiday took an elbow to the nose from Sundiata Gaines and Iguodala came up holding his hamstring in the fourth, but both men were ultimately fine and continued to play.
As for the Nets, they just kept plugging away with the same skeleton crew that lost the previous four contests. MarShon Brooks put together a solid second quarter with nine points on 4-6 shooting, and he parleyed that into a team-high 18 points despite shooting just 2-8 in the other periods. The only double-double of the night went to Kris Humphries for his 16-point, 12-rebound effort, which may have turned a few N.J. fans slightly crazy ...
MVP Chants in Prudential Center for Kris Humphries. There are no typos in that sentence.— Dime Alert (@DimeAlert) April 24, 2012
Meanwhile, solid bench efforts from Johan Petro (10 points, 5-8 FGs) and Armon Johnson (10 points, 5-10 FGs) kept things close enough that New Jersey pulled within a single point during the third quarter before Thad Young posted 10 points in just under four minutes to push the game back out of reach. In an odd bit of history, Johnson and Petro own a place in the history books as well. Armon Johnson cashed in a spinning floater with 51.7 seconds remaining for the final Nets' points in New Jersey, while Petro claimed the final shot attempt on a 19-foot brick with 19.9 seconds on the clock. Here's the final basket the New Jersey Nets will ever score:
For all of Monday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.