10 games. A total 967-966 score over those 2 games. 5 wins. 5 losses. 2 wins on each other’s floor. Nets-Raptors has been an extremely compelling series, and now, facing each other for the 11th time this season, they do battle, once and for all, for the right to face the Miami Heat in the second round. The Nets hope to win their first playoff series since 2007 (the Raptors since 2001), and the opportunity now sits in front of them.
To prepare you for the big game, our entire staff is here to answer five questions related to the game. In addition, I am proud to introduce guests for today: Zarar Siddiqi (@RaptorsRepublic) of raptorsrepublic.com – an ESPN Truehoop affiliate which does outstanding work, and another excellent Raptors fan, @RaptorsRapUp. They have provided some of their insights on game 7 from the Toronto Raptors’ angle. You should check out Zarar’s site and follow both gentlemen on Twitter during the game!
Game 7: Nets Perspective
Justin Salkin (@brooklynsbeat): The same key as always. Deron Williams having a strong game. Deron has weapons around him, so when he’s on, this team is extremely tough to beat. Many including myself have speculated as to why he’s suffered from inconsistency, but all that matters is that he has. Him outplaying Kyle Lowry would go a long way in game 7.
Anthony Pignatti (apignatti360): My answer to this question is two-fold: First, the Nets must continue to find ways to score inside the paint. Joe Johnson has been featured on the blocks throughout this series for his size and strength that Toronto’s guards cannot match one-on-one. Inserting Alan Anderson into the starting lineup for Shaun Livingston has caused Toronto to rethink the way they double JJ because of Anderson’s threat from 3pt range. I highly recommend you check out TheBrooklynGame.com for an excellent breakdown of how specifically Anderson’s sheer ability to hit from deep impacted Game 6. Throughout these playoffs, Brooklyn is ranked first and second in FG% in the paint (non-restricted area) and in the restricted area, respectively. The Nets must look to continue this trend if they hope to win Game 7. With that said, the Nets are shooting just a tick above 33% in all other areas on the floor. Toronto’s rotations have been on point throughout this entire series which have led to a high volume of contested outside jumpers that the Nets just haven’t been able to knock down consistently. Pounding the rock inside is going to be key but in order for this to happen, the Nets must keep them honest by hitting a respectable number and respectable percentage from 3. One of Toronto’s adjustments for Game 7 may very well be to leave shooters some space and collapse the paint. The Nets must take advantage if they want to advance.
Jordan Patton (@jordanpatton22): I don’t think the key has changed from game 6. Deron needs to be aggressive and the Nets need to contain Kyle Lowry the same way they did on Friday. I think as long as the Nets continue to execute their game plan and Deron plays, they will be fine.
Dylan Mendelowicz (dylanM_NBA): Deron Williams. It’s obvious and all anyone is talking about, but Deron Williams is key to game seven and the Nets playoff lives. This is still his team, and it’s quite obvious: when Deron plays well, the Nets play well, when Deron fails to show up, the Nets have a much harder time winning games. if the Deron Williams of game six shows up, I think it will be a very good afternoon for Brooklyn.
2) Kyle Lowry shot 4-16 in Game 6. How do the Nets keep him from going wild on his home floor?
Justin: It will partially take a total team effort, and also depend on hoping Lowry misses shots. The Nets will need to guard the pick and roll aggressively, preventing Lowry from turning the corner and exploiting the teeth of the defense. Do that, and he’s then got to rely on hitting his 3 to have a significant impact: he is a great shooter, but if the Nets can make life tough on him and contest his perimeter looks, they have a shot at slowing him down.
Jordan: Again, they don’t have to do anything less than what they did in game 6. Double team him when necessary, do NOT let him take open jump shots (if he hits one or two he gets hot and then tends to go on a roll). I think the main key is to keep the ball out of his hands as much as is physically possible.
Dylan: Exactly what they did last game. Switching and just get the ball out of his hands. When the ball isn’t in Lowry’s hands, the Raptors can’t function. DeRozan will be DeRozan and have another good game, but if the Nets can get the ball out of Lowry’s hands and force him into difficult shots, it should get the job done.3) Shaun Livingston was handpicked by Kidd to become a Net and to start after Brook’s injury. How should Kidd handle his minutes given his struggles?Justin: The way they did last game. Livingston’s been a revelation, but he’s struggled this series. Alan Anderson is a better distance shooter, whom has also held his own against DeMar DeRozan at a level comparable to Livingston. Livingston’s defensive versatility has value, and he will get into game 7, but Anderson’s ability to strech the floor has really boosted the Nets since game 5’s fourth quarter.
Anthony: Livingston reminds me of how the Bulls were able to overload their defenders away from Gerald Wallace last year in order to clog the paint. In today’s NBA, most teams have 4, sometimes all 5 guys on the floor that are capable of hitting from 3. When a PG is unable to shoot from that range, teams find ways to exploit that deficiency. Shaun only played 9 minutes in Game 6, but I would expect that to increase a bit for Game 7. He’s one of the few guys capable of getting his own shot, namely from midrange, whenever he wants. He needs to make better decisions with the basketball on offense, and he certainly needs to stop fouling jump shooters on defense. I’m not going to overreact to a few poor performances from Shaun. He has been in this league for a very long time and knows the game well; invaluable traits for a Game 7 matchup. I strongly believe Alan Anderson will again receive the start for Brooklyn, which leaves Livingston with the 2nd unit. He’ll see more than the 9 minutes he saw in Game 6, but because of his lack of a threat from deep, he won’t be seeing his typical 28 minutes. I’d expect somewhere in the 15-20 minute range for Shaun Livingston in Game 7.
Jordan: I don’t really think Shaun has been struggling at all. His removal from the starting lineup isn’t so much on him as it is on the above-expectations play of Alan Anderson. When Livingston was on the court I felt he was still effective for the most part. I think he’s just got to stay ready for whenever Kidd calls his number, and the guy is a professional so I don’t think that will be a problem.
Dylan: At this point in the season, emotions, feelings etc. are out the window. I still think he should get minutes with the second unit, but he has to be better. If he doesn’t play better, there’s no reason Kidd shouldn’t bench him. It’s game seven and both teams are playing for their lives. If Livingston can’t get the job done, is making silly mistakes and looks out of sorts, you bench him for the game. That’s it.
4) The Nets’ bench has struggled all series. Which reserve coming alive is most important in game 7?
Justin: I’ll go with Andray Blatche. I know others on the bench shoots the 3 (and Livingston was a starter and is hugely important), but to me, the largest dropoff to the bench this series has been defensively, and from a rebounding perspective, when KG has sat. Blatche shrunk this gap in game 6. Blatche is a fine player when he is aggressive, and 100% focused on the task of hand. If he can take that attitude in game 7, that would be a great boost to the Nets.
Anthony: This is an easy one for me: Andray Blatche. His intent and focus was immediately apparent during Game 6. What I loved about his game was his intent to stay inside the paint, an area he is much more effective offensively. Believe it or not, the Nets out-rebounded Toronto 45-42 in Game 6. Blatche, who grabbed 7 board in just 20 minutes, is one of the reasons why. When Jonas Valanciunas comes out of the game, Toronto doesn’t have any other bigs that can matchup inside with Andray. Once JJ comes out of the game, the Nets don’t really have anyone else that can impact the game inside the paint offensively outside of Blatche. If he can make a presence for himself in the paint with that second unit, Toronto will have to react and this could open up our shooters. They key is, of course, is to knock those down when the opportunities present themselves.
Jordan: I would probably say Mirza. When Mirza is hot he is an absolute game-changer. If he comes in and hits a couple threes it could push the momentum greatly into the Nets favor.
Dylan: : Andray Blatche. I’ve said all along that Blatche has the ability to sway this series, either good or bad. He’s enormously talented, there’s no denying that. But when he plays like he did in game six, playing some of the best defense of his career and staying down low, not dribbling around taking perimeter shots, he’s extremely effective and has an absolutely huge impact on the game. If that Andray Blatche shows up, it’ll go a long way it helping the Nets move on.
5) What do the Nets do if Deron Williams is not healthy?
Justin: This is the big concern. The Nets won game 6, but after Deron’s injury, really just held on. When he plays well the game becomes easier for Joe Paul and Kevin, and without that, those guys are forced to create. I would continue to utilize Johnson as is, and if Deron was unable to probe the defense, I would turn him into a spot up shooter.
Anthony: Deron’s health is a huge question mark heading into Game 7. In all of my years watching basketball, I’ve never seen a player with such consistent ankle trouble. I’m officially convinced that his ankle tendons are made of tissue paper. I can all but guarantee Deron will be on the court for this game, but that doesn’t necessarily proclaim he’s healthy. If he can’t plant and change direction the way we know he’s capable of, I think the Nets will use him off the ball and give him very little responsibility running the offense. Shaun Livingston may see a spike in minutes to run some point with DWill on the floor. Joe Johnson may even run the offense for a few spot minutes here and there. We’ll know very quickly whether Deron’s ankle will hold up today. Look at Deron’s lateral movement on defense as that will tell us right away if he will be limited. As mentioned earlier, Deron is the barometer to this team. If he is severely limited, my confidence in taking down Toronto drops significantly. However, Kidd can still make use of DWill of the ball if he’s able to get open looks and knock down his shots.
Jordan: I don’t know, but we will find out today because I don’t think he is “healthy”. That ankle sprain is something that would have kept him out at least a week or two if this were the regular season. There is a difference, however, between being healthy and being able to play. I think Deron will be a significant percentage below 100, only time will tell how much lower that percentage is. I think even if he is hobbled by the ankle and can still play aggressively the Nets will be okay.
Dylan: Play Livingston more minutes and just continue to play the way they have. Pound the ball into Joe in the post, and if/when they double, just kick it out and get good looks. Brooklyn needs a healthy and aggressive Deron to go anywhere, but Livingston has done an admirable job all year long. He’s had a rough series, but given his play all year, I would completely trust him if he needed to play more minutes and run the offense in game seven.
Game 7: Raptors Perspective
And here is Zarar Siddiqi (@RaptorsRepublic, raptorsrepublic.com) and @RaptorsRapUp, whom answer several questions related to the Raptors’ view of game 7.
1) What is the key to the Raptors winning game 7?
Jonas has been abusing Kevin Garnett all series long, and Amir has been a ghost for most of this series but has improved greatly this year at finishing around the basket off the pick and roll. If given good looks off the 2 man game Lowry needs to make Brooklyn pay with his outside shooting and by driving to get foul calls, again something I expect him to get more of back at home.
That’s how games snowball for Lowry, if his shot is falling it opens up the paint for him to draw fouls and find his big men underneath, or let DeRozan go to work with some space. That’s how the Raptors have played all regular season and if it happens in game 7 the Raps will be awful tough to beat on their home court. Kyle can get a little hero ball oriented at time if he’s really feeling it, or his teammates are struggling, that’s something he needs to avoid.
The Raps should also look to Landry Fields and maybe try to salvage Ross one last time and hope for the best one on one, if successful that would be the key to victory. After all, Johnson has had his rough patches especially for the first 3 quarters of game 5. The key will be to not Give Joe, D-Will, and Pierce, those open outside shots. The Raps have survived giving up too many open looks at times in this series. But as we saw in game 6 that can catch up to you, and when it does it will be nearly impossible to overcome with as many polished outside shooters as Brooklyn has.
If the Raptors can find their signature offence at home that can balance out Brooklyn’s attack if it’s firing on all cylinders. Ultimately I think the winner of this game will be won by whichever team can catch fire for a stretch and build a lead. We’ve seen both teams execute for just long enough stretches to stave off valiant comeback attempts after going ice cold. Will Brooklyn knock down enough of their open shots through playing another big Iso Joe game? Or will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan find their shot, the paint, and the foul line to wreak all sorts of havoc and open things up for guys like Valencuinas, Vasquez, and Patrick Patterson?