Congrats Coach Kidd! Pierce Didn’t Foul Out!

For classic, “not into analytics” coaches, you always hear the same thing about foul trouble: “we needed him for the 4th quarter.” “We had to take him out, he had 2 fouls in the first quarter.” “He had 3 fouls at half.”

And as a fan, it’s natural to see where that perspective comes from. The logic goes, the 4th quarter is the most important quarter of the game. It’s “winning time.” And you can’t lose a key piece if he fouls out before “winning time”: you need him in the game. 

Except, here is the problem: all of the minutes matter. And by sitting a guy with “foul trouble” for too long, you wind up effectively fouling him out of the game. 

With 3:35 remaining in the third quarter, the Nets were up 4 points, 61-57. They had outscored Toronto by 10 in the third: 22-12, through that juncture of the game. In a series where, through two games, the Nets starters have been significantly better than their bench, their starters came to play once again, and were pounding the Raptors.

And then. Something happened. Paul Pierce committed his 4th foul, having played 19 minutes through that juncture of the game. 

Kidd’s response? He sat Pierce until the 5:43 mark of the game: a whopping 11:52 minutes of game action — nearly an entire quarter. And when Pierce checked in: the Nets were down 81-78.  

Translation: Pierce helped spearhead a 22-12 spurt in the third, because this Nets team is INFINITELY better with him at the 4, spacing the floor and providing the Nets with a huge mismatch at the four that they use to exploit teams like Toronto. Without him, the Nets were promptly outscored 24-17 over the near equivalent of one quarter. 

I understand the logic? He had foul trouble he needs to sit! But at what cost. Pierce has not fouled out of a single game this season: why couldn’t the Nets trust him not to foul out of this contest? And by sitting him for an 11:43 stretch, what the Nets did was effectively foul him out on their own (as described here in regards to Warriors-Clippers game 1: http://aloneinthecorner.com/post/83340969532/two-passes-from-victory). 

Pierce played 25 minutes in game 2, after playing 36 in game 1. The Nets were +7 in those 25 minutes: thereby -12 in 23 minutes without him. And to add to that discrepancy, that +7 is only larger if you take away late game fouling. +9-10 is a more accurate picture of his impact in playing half the game. 

You know what would have helped the Nets, infinitely? Playing Pierce closer to 36 minutes…something they could have done by putting Pierce in way earlier than the 5:43 mark of the fourth. (Perhaps, at the 8-9 minute mark). Or, perhaps, if Kidd wanted Pierce to get 4th quarter rest, he could have simply kept him in for 3:35 with his four fouls. That would have helped Brooklyn continue to build on its 22-12 surge. 

By doing what he did, Kidd worried so much about the chance that Pierce may foul out, thereby losing minutes on the floor, and simply fouled him out on his own, by preemptively taking those minutes away from Pierce with his 11:43 long rest. Combine the tv timeouts, game timeouts, and end of quarter timeout, and that is an incredibly long time to rest during a basketball game. 

Instincts tell us “well, we needed him at the end.” But if we played him more prior to the end, maybe we’re tied, or up, when Pierce checks in, instead of down 3.

Because for all the talk about the 4th quarter being winning time, every quarter matters. A game can be won in any quarter, not just the 4th. What if the Nets built an 8 point lead in the third, with Pierce’s floor spacing helping to buoy the Nets to close the quarter. That would have likely won Brooklyn the game. 

For all the talk about the Nets winning game 1 of their series with Toronto in the fourth quarter, the Nets were up 5 after 3.  That obviously helped them win the game. The game wasn’t close, but check the score of Clippers-Warriors game 2. They didn’t win it in the 4th. 

By cringing at the thought of foul trouble, Kidd made sure Pierce did not foul out — the cost of which would be that he would be on the bench, instead of producing on the court. He did it by taking him off the floor for so long, that he may as well have fouled out anyway. 

 

Other Notes: 

-I understand Kidd’s rest position with Kevin Garnett. Garnett was worn by the playoffs last year – he played well early, wore as they dragged along, and wasn’t the same guy as during the season. So as a result, his 30 minute per game load, which rose to 35 in the playoffs, was not realistic for us to expect. So I supported Kidd, as he played KG 20 minutes a game during the season: I got the bigger picture. 

But here’s the thing: why haven’t those minutes gone up now…at least a touch! The whole idea of keeping a guy’s minutes down is so when the playoffs come, he is fresh and ready to go. The playoffs are here! At this point, there is nothing to hold KG back from. Sure, maybe big minutes now could hurt later in the playoffs, but unlike the regular season where you expect the playoffs to arrive, there is no tomorrow in the playoffs if you do not win. 

And therein lies the rub. The Nets problems in Toronto were as follows: 1: they’re not making shots from deep, particularly the bench. 2: the Nets pick and roll defense could be better. 3: the Nets containment of Valanciunas must be better. 4: Blatche and Plumlee are struggling. Blatche is a mess defensively (expected) and Plumlee is struggling to stay on the court, and is not making a big impact (perhaps foreseeable). KG: He has played fine. If you look at the plus minus, (note: I am generally not a +/- guy because there’s noise in the data but sometimes it matches up with the advanced stats and eye test, it does here and with Paul above) the Nets are +17 in KG’s 40 minutes this series, and -15 in his 56 minutes on the bench. That’s significant. He’s simply much better than Dray and Mason, especially right now, and it shows in his play. He’s the team’s best rebounder (the one area they simply struggle in from going small) and best defender. He solves 3 of the 4 problems above — or at least offers the least hurtful solution. The 1 problem he does not solve of course is the 3 ball, but neither do Dray and Mason. 

I am understanding that at some level, KG will give you diminishing returns if he plays too many minutes. But playing him 25-30 minutes depending on the quality given behind him would be very helpful for the Nets. Seeing Paul and Kevin be so impactful when on the floor, then losing because we struggle mightily when they sit, makes seeing them sit this much sting. 

 

-There is a lot of discussion out there about the Nets losing a chance in game 2, and I certainly understand that losing is always disappointing, especially when you’re as close as a Pierce rimming out 3. But at the same time, it’s not as though the Nets laid down the way Golden State did in game 2, and said “hey we got our split, whatever.” They competed, and competed hard. Down the stretch, DeMar DeRozan makes two long 2’s over good contests — shots we want as a defense — and Paul takes an open corner 3 for the lead — a shot we want as an offense. All 7 of those points fell Toronto’s way. Sometimes, those are the breaks. 

And also, you must remember what your goal is in a 7 game series: of course, your goal is to win the series. But also, your goal is to hold serve at home, and get enough breaks of serve on the road to swipe the series. As the road team in a best of 7, it is your job to grab a split on the road. If you grab a split, you have done your job. While it stings to lose, the Nets have done their job, and their inability to essentially grab an insurance win on the road is not damaging…unless they fail to hold serve at home. 

The Raptors job was to win both games at home. Our job was to grab the split. We did the job, and now we take things to the Brooklyn Herringbone. Time to do the job, again. 

Is the pressure on? Sure. But that’s the case for all 16 playoff teams. There are only 14 teams facing 0 pressure right now. All of them are home, watching the playoffs. The teams with the most pressure: LeBron’s Heat, whose season will be called a failure if they don’t three peat, Durant’s Thunder, as a means of validating his MVP to some, Duncan’s Spurs, as they were so close last year and accept nothing less, and the Pacers, whom will be seen as a massive failure barring at a minimum a duplication of a year ago (and even then, may be seen as one).

Pressure is a privilege. Is it on us? Sure. But remember who it’s not on: it is a privilege. 

And not for nothing, the pressure is on the Raptors as well. Sure, we know that if we do not win 3 home games, we have to grab another win in Toronto. But don’t they know that if they do not grab a road game against a team that won 15 straight at home and whom they barely won a home game over, that their season is over. 

The pressure is on. But we also chose to move to Brooklyn and its associated magnifying glass, chose to add bigtime playoff performers which put a target on our back, and aren’t home watching with not a care on the world. 

Pressure is how we like it. That’s the Truth. 

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