P.J. Carlesimo has been an assistant coach for a Game 7 twice in a nearly two-decade NBA coaching career. He has never been a head coach.
That changes Saturday night when Carlesimo and the Nets attempt to become the ninth team to win a series after trailing three games to one.
Carlesimo goes into the game feeling good about the opportunity presented in front of him and for the franchise’s first year in Brooklyn. He goes into the game with a good feeling despite the word “gutless” being thrown around twice at halftime on television broadcasts.
“I’ve got a ton of confidence in these guys,” Carlesimo said on Friday’s conference call. “They’ve been resilient all year. We stepped up many, many times when people didn’t think we could step up and we’ve played well on the road. We’ve beaten a lot of the better teams in the league and I’m confident. The reward for the way we played in the regular season is that Game 7 in the first round is in our building. I’m just very confident our guys are going to take advantage of the opportunity and continue to do what they’ve done.”
Confidence aside, Carlesimo is aware of how difficult it can be, especially after the Nets stayed alive by gutting out a 95-92 win in which Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez combined for 3-of-17 shooting and five turnovers after halftime.
“Our mantra has been kind of been the last couple of games to win and move on and get it back it to Brooklyn for Game 7,” Carlesimo said. “We certainly can’t think that we’ve done the hard part already. What’s left is going to be more difficult than the last two games and I think that’s going to be a challenge tomorrow. I think our guys can handle it but that’s a major challenge.”
Saturday will mark the first time Carlesimo has been in a Game 7 since May 22, 2006 as an assistant for San Antonio’s head coach Gregg Popovich. That night, the Spurs were unable to complete their comeback from three games to one and fell 119-111 to the Mavericks in the conference semifinals.
A year before that, Carlesimo had a front-row seat as a Popovich assistant as Tim Duncan took over the third quarter of an 81-74 victory that gave him the second of three NBA championships while coaching the Spurs.
“Hopefully I’ll respond well,” Carlesimo said. “But fortunately I don’t have to play. I think the guys that are playing are going to handle it well and I think that’s the important thing. We’ll be fine. I think Game 7s are different yes, but I don’t think the Game 7 experience is going to be the defining reason for tomorrow’s game.”
Winning this game may also mean more of an assurance Carlesimo returns as head coach after taking over the team 29 games into this season.
Carlesimo has never let that thought pop in mind, at least not publicly.
“It would mean we got to pack Sunday morning and get on a plane and do a quick turnaround and get ready for a really, really good opponent,” Carlesimo said. “Again it’s not something you have any control over. I think when you get away from it, you get to the summer, you get far away you can kind of look back.
“This has been pretty much a blur the entire year. That’s the way seasons are.”
Carlesimo will be coaching the third Game 7 played in the borough of Brooklyn and the first one since October 1956. He and the Nets are there because they won two elimination games following a crushing triple-overtime loss at the United Center a week ago.
“We want to win and we believe in our abilities and I think these guys, we have an identity now as the Brooklyn franchise and I think we think as the Brooklyn Nets and I think they want the Brooklyn Nets to advance and get into the next round,” Carlesimo said. “So let’s see what we can do. I don’t think it’s all those other factors. I just think it’s those 15 guys wanting to win for themselves and for this franchise.”
The Nets are the 210th team to fall behind 3-1 in a best-of-seven and the Nets are the 29th team to force Game 7, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Now the Nets have a chance to overcome that deficit and even with players having individual experience in seventh games, winning it would be very significant for Carlesimo.
“So I’m glad we’ve got some guys who have been there,” he said. “That may help them. For all of us, I think it’s a significant step to play a Game 7 to learn how to deal with it and take it as a positive experience going forward.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.