NEW YORK -- As the Brooklyn Nets stare down the fact that their season is on the verge of coming to an abrupt end, coach Steve Nash said he is not thinking about what might have been had Nets guard Kyrie Irving been vaccinated against COVID-19 before the season.
"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 Nets are down 3-0 to the Boston Celtics and have failed to develop continuity -- a trait that has also been missing throughout their first-round series, with Game 4 looming Monday night.
While Irving's decision not to get vaccinated is not the only reason the Nets find themselves in this situation, it is the storyline that has hovered over everything the organization has done since Irving made it clear that he would not get the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the fact that then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio put a mandate in place that workers within the city had to get the vaccine in order to participate in the workplace.
Irving's decision came back into focus after Game 3 when he noted that he would have liked for the Nets to have had more time to jell throughout the season.
"We're all just trying to jell," Irving said. "And usually you're jelling at the right time. And that team in the other locker room is jelling at the right time. They've been jelling since Christmas. So for us, we're just in a new experience as a group and we just got to respect that and just bring everything we can to this next game and just do one possession at a time.
"I don't want to be too cliché, but I don't have a lot of answers from how you make up time from October until now when usually teams would be jelling and things would be feeling good. You could put it on me in terms of playing better, controlling the game better, controlling our possessions, being more in a stance, not turning the ball over as much -- so you could put it on me more of just doing more. And holding the guys accountable, same way I'm held accountable."
Irving has been clear in saying he felt he made the best decision for himself by declining to get vaccinated, but that decision cost him an early chunk of the Nets' season. The Nets declined to have Irving as a part-time player to start the year, but reversed course in December after a teamwide COVID-19 outbreak. Irving came back on Jan. 5 in a win over the Indiana Pacers and was only able to play in road games. When Kevin Durant injured his left MCL on Jan. 15 and had to miss over 1 1/2 months, Irving's in-and-out status was felt even more acutely.
"I think we've faced all these things this year and we've put ourselves in this position, which is a big win considering the team could have imploded when Kevin was out and Kyrie was only playing on the road and James [Harden] was gone and all that stuff. We stuck together. We found a way to stay in this thing losing 18-of-21 or more, whatever it was.
"That was a big win for this group and that put us in this position. Now we're in this position and we're getting our heads kicked in right now and it's important for us to keep a perspective that it's not as bad as it looks. We're very unfortunate to have not won a game in this series. And we still have a lot to play for.
Harden was traded just before February's deadline to the Philadelphia 76ers, in a deal that brought Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks to Brooklyn. At his first news conference as a Sixer, Harden noted that Irving's decision not to get the vaccination factored into his decision.
Simmons, who was supposed to provide defensive support, has not been able to play at all after suffering a herniated disk in his back. Irving was finally able to rejoin the team full time in late March after Mayor Eric Adams rolled back the mandate for athletes and performers. The continuity the Nets have been seeking all year remains missing in the biggest games of the season. Despite all the ups and downs, the Nets have stood firm in their public support of Irving's decision. Durant said last month that he doesn't feel Irving deserved any extra criticism for his stance on the vaccine, no matter how the season played out.
"I don't think about that," Nets guard Bruce Brown said. "I still support Ky and his decision. He lived with that decision, so I don't think about that at all."
Nash, who has also repeatedly stood up for Irving publicly, admitted that the up-and-down nature of the season has made it one of the most trying in all his years in professional basketball.
"It would be hard to top last year," Nash said. "But I think it's just nose to head. We just haven't had any continuity for the two seasons. That's our challenge, and we've got to embrace that. And see what reward there is in embracing that challenge and trying to overcome."