Game 7: 5 for 5

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

1) What is the key to the Nets winning game 7?

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.

Anthony: Kyle Lowry is similar to Deron Williams in that when Lowry has a good game, Toronto likely wins. As us Nets fans know, when DWill is playing up to par, the Nets also typically win. I think this is and has been the most important match-up during this series. Deron has received a great deal of credit following his 23 points and 50% shooting performance after playing through his twisted ankle he suffered early in the 3rd quarter of Game 6. But what I most notably saw from DWill was his excellent defense on Lowry, both prior to and following his ankle injury. If he can duplicate that defensive performance, the Nets will be well on their way to Miami. I also noticed on high PnRs with Lowry, the screener’s defender (whether that was Garnett, Blatche, Teletovic, etc.) showed on Lowry just a touch longer than in previous games. This defensive maneuver by Kidd forced Lowry (or the other guards running a high PnR) to dribble laterally, thus disallowing penetration. Lowry will be in for a long game if he cannot turn the corner on those PnRs like he was able to do in previous games of the series.
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?

Zarar: They need to make the Nets pay for the pressure they apply by passing out of double-teams efficiently and initiating sets which are heavy on ball-movement. Reducing the number of isolation sequences in favor of more two-man sets (e.g., Lowry/Johnson, DeRozan/Valanciunas) would help. Defensively, they obviously need to handle Joe Johnson a little better, and not have Amir Johnson exploited by Paul Pierce with such ease – this is where Dwane Casey needs to do some, you know, coaching. Plus, maybe a three or two from Terrence Ross, who has been missing all series, would definitely help. If not that, then maybe if he could step up his defense and negate Deron Williams, it would be nice.
@RaptorsRapUp: Undoubtedly the key for the Raptors is finding some way to slow down Joe Johnson. The thought coming into the series was that Terrence Ross would assume the duties. He’s improved greatly as a defender that can guard the 1-3 spots and flashed shutdown potential at times in the second half of the regular season. But he’s completely melted down in this series and hasn’t even been able to provide defence or 3 point shooting shooting, the two skills he hangs his hat on. Ross’s disappearance has exposed a major flaw in the Raptors largely stout defence, which is that if Ross is of no help the Raptors have no answer for an All-Star level wing, especially one that can score in the paint and on the perimeter like Joe Jesus.
2) Kyle Lowry has been red hot at times this series, but shot 4-16 in game 6. How do the Raptors get him back on track?
Zarar: Kyle Lowry doesn’t need to be pushed “back on track”. He had a bad shooting night and tried to do too much on his own, partially because he was forced into late shot-clock situations by the Nets. He also didn’t check Deron Williams well. As far as I’m concerned, Kyle Lowry needs to keep doing what he’s doing and the law of averages will play out in the Raptors favor.
@RaptorsRapUp: I’m not too worried about Lowry, I think he was a little excited in game 6 and will settle into game 7 if his knee is feeling relatively good. His hustle plays and ability to draw offensive fouls should play better at home, both with the refs and as a means to energize the Air Canada Center, which will be a madhouse as it is.
Kyle’s issue is that he’s been a over zealous at times, especially in game 6. If he gets into foul trouble he has to alter his game, I’m sure that’s something Dwayne Casey has made him well aware of. Lowry needs to look to his lethal pick and roll game, especially as a means of getting Jonas Valenciunas, and Amir Johnson involved.
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.
3) Joe Johnson has been giving Toronto a load of trouble when he’s on the floor. How does Toronto slow him down in game 7?
Zarar: Our man Blake Murphy wrote an article about this (http://www.raptorsrepublic.com/2014/04/20/joe-johnson-picked-apart-raptors/). Dwane Casey’s strategy of “mixing” coverages against him worked in Game 4, the Nets soon adjusted by increasing their off-the-ball movement around Johnson, making it easier for him to find outlets. For DeMar DeRozan’s sakes, I would suggest a starting lineup change which sees either Landry Fields or John Salmons check him, and the Raptors continue throwing different looks at Johnson.
@RaptorsRapUp: Jason kidd played his ace card in moving Alan Anderson into the starting lineup for game 6 and just playing more shooters in general, doing so created good spacing and another shooter to make the Raps pay for doubling JJ. Not to mention moving the more athletic Andray Blatche ahead of rookie Mason Plumlee in the rotation. This threw Toronto for a loop as evidenced by Brooklyn’s 60 1st half points. The Problem for Toronto is that DeRozan can’t handle Johnson, as we talked about Ross hasn’t been up to the task, and they’d like to have Vasquez out there quite a bit but he can’t ever be allowed to guard Joe.
This is the biggest issue Casey and his staff need to solve after reviewing the tape of game 6 and breaking down Kidd’s adjustments. Any plus, either on offence or defence will have it’s glaring negative on the other side of the ball. I would double Johnson often and if someone like other than Johnson, Deron, or Pierce is going to beat you then so be it.
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.
4) The Raptors have been really good in this series when Lowry and Greivis Vasquez have shared the floor. Any reason they don’t go to that look more often?
Zarar: I agree that that lineup has been effective, especially due to Vasquez’ excellent ball-handling ability in the face of pressure. They do play that lineup enough so I don’t have many complaints there. The lineup does come at the expense of defense, as we saw Deron Williams go past Greivis Vasquez in Game 6.
@RaptorsRapUp: I believe we’ll get more of that look in game 7, despite the fact that Vasquez offers nothing defensively the Raptors need his offence since Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross have disappeared. Greivis can space the floor opening up lanes for Lowry and DeRozan, and offers another ball handler on the floor which Casey likes to have. Vasquez isn’t scared of the moment and has never met a s**t he didn’t like, he’s your classic “irrational confidence guy”, that can have its drawbacks but the way the offence has become stagnant Vasquez has become the wild card the
Raptors may need to win game 7. If he has one of his 7-9 type of shooting days, with a bunch of rebounds and assists that may very well elevate Toronto to a win. On the flip side, if his shot isn’t falling combined with his minus defence that could sink the Raps.
5) Nets Nation is very aware of what a series win would mean for Brooklyn. What would a win tomorrow mean for the Raptors and Toronto?
Zarar: It would validate the decision not to tank. From the city’s perspective it means more partying downtown. For the players it means more exposure in the US and getting valuable playoff experience. For the franchise, a step forward that brings it closer to respectability.
@RaptorsRapUp: The Raptors have only won a single playoff series in the franchise’s history. The Raptors started to gain buzz when they won the Atlantic Division in 2007, but after flaming out in the first round against guess who? The Nets, that buzz quickly faded and the team has firmly been a second class citizen to the Maple Leafs ever since.
The buzz since the new year has been greater than in 2007, and with the emergence of more high profile basketball players coming out of the Greater Toronto Area (Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett etc.) basketball in Toronto is as popular as it’s been in 15 years, maybe ever. Just winning a round, having something Raptors related to celebrate and the exposure playing Miami in the 2nd round would bring, regardless of outcome would be a serious building block for basketball in Toronto and Canada.
@RaptorsRapUp’s Conclusion: Ultimately it took Jason Kidd 6 games to find the Raptors greatest weakness and how to exploit it. With no one currently capable of Guarding Joe Johnson, putting as many shooters on the floor as possible and having Johnson either win one on one or find the open shooter when the Raps double is route Kidd now deems best. Casey and his staff recovered a little in game 6 to only allow 37 2nd half points. This game will come down to Dwayne Casey’s counter punch at Kidd, finding a solution to the new problem the Nets have posed.
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?
@Brooklynsbeat’s conclusion: Deron will come to play. Pierce and Garnett will provide the Nets with the game 7 lift and edge they sorely lacked a year ago. Joe Johnson will come up big. And the Nets will win a road game 7.
Game 7 is almost upon us, it’s time to find out!
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