Category Archives: Previews and Recaps

Can’t Beat Superheroes with Heroball

You hear it all the time. It’s the end of the game, the big moment. Who takes the last shot? Who gets the ball. And with the way Joe Johnson prevailed so often to close games this year, with the way Paul Pierce has in his career, you heard it alot around the Nets too. You also heard it in Miami, in 2010. When the big 3 formed, much of the conversation focused on who takes the last shot in Miami.

Miami has the correct answer to that question, and Brooklyn doesn’t: the answer is that it does not matter, and you just run offense.

Late in games, when a team’s best player attempts to go 1 on 1 to get his shot, we tend to call it “heroball”: one guy trying to be the hero. ESPN has done extensive work on the dangers of heroball — even when you analyze the greatest “clutch” players like Kobe, Pierce, Joe Johnson, and others, you tend to find a trend: by and large, teams perform better in the clutch by running a play that produces a good shot: for a shooter taking a good shot, whoever he is, as opposed to force feeding one player. Even if that player is known as the maven of clutch. It simply makes sense: you run offense a whole game to get yourself good shots, as opposed to just milking one player. Why change in the clutch?

However, that view tends not to jive with how NBA players — the most prideful and competitive of men — think of a game. Many NBA players see the game in the same classic lens that we tend to discuss the game in. The end of the game is about “who wants the last shot,” and “the great ones want the ball in the closing moments.”

The Nets’ problem tonight: they have many players who think that way, perhaps have a coach who coaches that way late in games because he just played, and executed that way.

The Nets’ late game offense tonight starting at 94-94 with 2:13 remaining:

-Kevin Garnett isolation fadeaway

-Joe Johnson isolation miss with LeBron contesting

-Joe Johnson isolation miss, again with LeBron guarding him

 

Perhaps not as much with the first possession, but on each possession there was a common theme, not just tonight but also in Game 4 against Toronto and throughout the year: the Nets tend to decide who their best player is, or particular guy they want shooting, and go to him late, no matter the matchup.

That goes against what they do all game long, where their general gameplan is “move the ball, get switches which breed mismatches, attack the mismatch.”

Ironically, the Heat’s game sealing 3 came from Chris Bosh, off a play in which Dwyane Wade attacked the rim, LeBron — their clear best player — did not even touch the ball but set a screen — and the resulting doubleteams freed Bosh in the corner for 3. The team with the game’s best player, the world’s best player, who was asked for its entire first year together “who takes the last shot” learned the answer.

“It doesn’t matter who takes the last shot. As long as the team gets a good shot.”

In some ways, this is Kidd’s most notable flaw as a coach. He does many good things I’ll touch on more during offseason grading. He makes lineup adjustments in significant ways, like starting a point guard in Livingston in Brook’s place when he went down for the year. He’s flexibile enough to try things like Teletovic at center, Pierce off the bench. He’s toyed with Brooklyn’s defensive scheme, compensating for a lack of team speed and rim protector in an era putting a premium on each skill.

However, he can be pretty vanilla offensively, especially late in games. One wonders how effective his “attack the mismatch” offense would work if he did not have so many weapons, and then when he abandons it late in favor of heroball, things get messy.

It must be noted that many coaches, and successful coaches, have these issues. Lionel Hollins and Mark Jackson come to mind. And while Kidd may play favorites (some players have a quicker hook, others lose their minutes more easily, etc), that’s an issue with most all coaches. I also will add I’m one of Kidd’s bigger supporters: I usually take time to defend him aggressively on Twitter after games from those blaming him for any Nets misfortune.

While we’re on the topic of heroball as compared to Miami, if Kidd wants a model to learn from, look no further than the coach he’s facing in the second round. Rick Carlisle coached Spoelstra into a paper bag in the 2011 finals, and Spoelstra’s end game offenses in the 2010-2011 season were largely vanilla. He expanded his playbook in a strong way, and let’s see if Kidd can do so in a year.

 

Other Notes

-The season is not over. Yes, the Nets are all but cooked, but the key there is “all but.” You go to Miami and try to gut a win out. The Heat were a bit lazy in their round 2 closeout game against the Bulls last year, and you hope for the same. And if you get it done you try to force game 7 by doing the fans in Brooklyn proud. The slimmest of chances? You bet. But you never give up.

-After playing a good game overall, Deron Williams disappeared in a big way late in the game. His last 3 shots did not even catch rim (despite taking 2 corner 3’s and a layup), and that was just depressing to watch. Sometimes the ankles are the issue for Deron, but if he plays well a whole game then collapses late, you can’t blame the feet. Were it the ankle, he would struggle from the jump.

-While I don’t like questioning Kidd’s rotations, Kirilenko is incredibly impactful when he’s on, and tonight was one of those nights. He provides versatility defensively both inside and outside, makes timely cuts and passes which help offensively, and generally is inpactful. That was the case tonight, and on a night where a paint presence and defense on LeBron sorely lacked, he could have provided a bigger boost. His absence in the fourth quarter was conspicuous.

-Tonight is a crusher. The Nets played hard, did all they could to extend the season, tie the series 2-2, and it just didn’t happen. They would have beaten a ton of teams tonight, including last round’s Raptors, and done so handily. The playoffs are a brutal place.

-Please, again, stop blaming officiating for losses. After the fanbase really slammed the Raptors fanbase for doing that in round 1, it just comes off as hypocritical. Officials are not out there trying to rig games. The NBA sees all 30 owners as its clients, and deeply cares for the financial viability and healthful success of all 30 of its teams. It’s not going to ruin those relationships and kill fan goodwill by attempting to fix and rig NBA games through it’s refs. Just like the Nets beat the Raptors: not the Nets plus 3 zebras, the Heat are beating the Nets, not the Heat plus 3 zebras. Also, the Heat actually committed one more foul than the Nets in game 4; five more fouls if you don’t consider the four fouls the Nets gave late when playing the foul game.

 

 

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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!

Game 6 Preview: What are the Nets Made of?

By: Jordan Patton

 

Well, here it is Brooklyn Nets fans: the most important game in Brooklyn Nets history to date. Now, I understand this is a debatable fact but I stand firm in my belief that this is absolutely the most crucial game the Nets have had since their move to Brooklyn last year. One could argue that last year’s game 7 vs. the Chicago Bulls was bigger as it was a game 7, however, that simply isn’t the case for a plethora of reasons. The most important reason is this year’s payroll: an NBA record $190 million will be flying out of owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s wallet, and for what – a first round exit to the Raptors? If the Nets lose this game than I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that this season was a total failure. THAT is why this is the most important game in Brooklyn’s short history. They either win tonight and Sunday in Toronto, or this team will forever be the punch line of jokes about overspending in sports.

Now, onto the game preview… where do I begin? The truth is I have absolutely no idea what we can expect to see tonight. Will we see the Nets that wowed us from January until early April? Or will it be the lifeless Nets that spotted the Raptors a 26-point lead in game 5? I’m sure I speak for all Nets fans when I say I sure hope that it is the former. While it is too hard to predict the actions of the Nets, I can certainly tell you what the Nets need to do tonight in order to take care of home court and head back to Toronto for a game 7 on Sunday. The Nets need Deron Williams to come out aggressively and outplay Kyle Lowry. You know what, strike that, Deron doesn’t have to outplay Lowry (which, let’s be honest, seems like an impossibility with how well Lowry has played this series) – he just has to be somewhere near as effective as Lowry. Either way, it is time for Deron to step up and play like the superstar everyone thought that he was in Utah. The Nets NEED Deron to step up tonight.

In a few short hours we will know which Nets team and which Deron Williams showed up tonight, Nets fans. I need to ask one simple thing of you though: no matter what happens tonight, please do not try to blame this game or this series on the officials. Players win and lose games, not refs. Sure refs miss a call here and there, but good teams win despite bad officiating. Good teams win no matter what. Tonight, we will find out if the Nets are a good team… or a punch line.

Nets-Raptors A Look Back on Game 3

The Brooklyn Nets came that close to blowing it. Luckily for Brooklyn, the Nets were able to pull through with good defense and clutch free throws in the final minute for a 102-98 win, taking a 2-1 series lead.
One thought I woke up with this morning and had to share with other fellow Net fans is that Jason Kidd made all the right adjustments coming off game 2.
I wrote: “Kidd made some great adjustments from game 2. One thing that stuck out to me is how he never just inserted the bench by themselves; it was usually three bench players with either the combination of Livingston/Joe, Livingston/Deron, or Deron/Joe anchoring them.”
It may not seem like a lot, but this was a huge adjustment. After getting away with putting the bench in without any help from the starters for the first five to six minutes of the fourth quarter of game one, Kidd stuck to the same plan during game 2 and it ultimately failed. During games one and two the Nets came into the fourth quarter with leads of five and two points respectively. With a chance to build on both leads Kidd chose to mass substitute the bench in. This caused the lead to dwindle or the game to remain close.
The Nets had an eleven point lead going into the fourth quarter yesterday. The lineup Kidd had on the court was Deron-Joe-Anderson-Mirza-Blatche. That lineup outscored the Raptors by three to zero in the one minute and 31 seconds they were out there, with those three points coming off of a Teletovic three that was assisted by Deron. The lineup of Livingston-Joe-Anderson-Mirza-Blatche was on the floor for the first six minutes and two seconds of the fourth and it outscored the Raptors 11 to 9 during that period. This was a very good and well needed adjustment by the Kidd.
“Brooklyn’s Backcourt” led the way last night and punished the Raptors by combining for 51 points on 18/31 shooting from the floor including 5/9 from deep. Deron Williams had 22 points and 8 assists on 7/14 shooting, while Joe Johnson had 29 points on 11/17 shooting, and 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
Also, major props to Andray Blatche last night for being aggressive in game 3 on both ends as he attempted the most free throws he’s ever attempted in his playoff career, going 8/8 from the charity stripe. He also played the best defense I’ve ever seen him play yesterday. He was hedging on P&R’s, just doing it all. Masterful performance by him on both ends.
As for Toronto, Demar DeRozan was their main option. DeRozan scored a game high 30 points on 22 shots. Kyle Lowry did not make his usual impact, scoring only 15 points and fouling out. For the 3rd straight game, Jonas Valanciunas recorded a double-double, getting 10 points and 10 rebounds. With Kyle Lowry hobbling for most of the game with what looked like a bruised right knee, the Raptors might need Derozan and Valanciunas to dig deep to be able to come away with a much needed win in game 4 in Brooklyn to avoid going down 3-1 this series.
What were your thoughts on last nights game? Do the Nets need to change anything? Let me know by interacting with me on Twitter to talk Brooklyn basketball @NBATalkWatts

Nets-Raptors Game 3: 5 for 5!

Nets fans: As you all know, the Nets do not have home court advantage in their series against the Toronto Raptors. So on the one hand, it is great news that they came out of Toronto with a split. On the other hand, the Nets lost game 2 with a potential chance to take a commanding 2-0 lead, so the onus is now on them to command home court, or risk having to win in Toronto once again.

Wondering what to look out for this weekend? Here’s the Brooklynsbeat staff hot on the trail!

1: What is the key to the Nets winning games 3 and 4?

Justin Salkin (@brooklynsbeat): Knocking down shots. The Nets are shooting 23% from 3 as a team in the playoffs, with Deron Williams the only player over 30%. The Nets got a road split, which as the road team is your job over games 1-2, and did it without hitting shots: the defensive effort and intensity is there for the most part. I have no doubt the Nets will be ready to fight in games 3-4. If they begin hitting their threes, that would be an excellent sign in their second goal: taking both games at home to take control of the series.

Anthony Pignatti (apignatti360): The key to winning games 3 and 4 for the Nets is to keep the Raptors out of transition. This Raptors team is quick and can really put up points in transition when you have the likes of Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan, and Terrance Ross running the floor in space. The Nets’ half-court defense is stout, but if the Nets continue to miss from long range which then turn into long rebounds, look out. The Nets have played very poorly in Game 2 and still came THIS close to taking a 2-0 series lead with a chance to close out at home. The Nets are executing their offensive sets well. Quality looks have come possession after possession, but the shots just haven’t fallen yet. I say “yet” because as long as the Nets continue to run their sets and find themselves open for shots, the Law of Averages says that these shots will begin to drop. The Nets are currently shooting an abysmal 23% (11/48) from deep, a number that is just not sustainable for an NBA team that set a franchise record in made threes this season. Once this team starts hitting from 3pt range, the Raptors’ transition opportunities become scarce.

Jake Henson (jwhenson_): Exploiting the Raptors lineup deficiencies. Whether that be posting up our guards on the likes of DeRozan, Ross and Lowry or crowding the paint when they play Amir Johnson instead of Patterson. I’d also like to see Garnett try and draw Jonas deep and make him scramble in pick and rolls to keep him off the glass. It’s a chance for Coach Kidd to really showcase his talent by picking apart Dwayne Casey’s lineups.

Jordan Patton (@jordanpatton22): I don’t know that there necessarily is a new key for the Nets heading into games 3 and 4. I think the most important thing for them to do is to stick to their game plan from the first two games of this series. The Nets shot a pretty below average (putting it nicely) percentage from beyond the 3-point line in the first two games, yet they walked away from Toronto with a win and came one spectacular quarter from Demar Derozan short of winning two. If the Nets execute and hit the open shots that they missed in games 1 and 2, they should have no problem taking care of home court.

Dylan Mendelowicz (dylanM_NBA): Defending the paint and controlling the boards are definitely the keys to winning these two very important games. Jonas Valanciunas has absolutely dominated the Nets inside and we simply have had no answer. It’s important for Brooklyn to get creative and find ways to get the ball out of Val’s hands and away from the paint. Let the Raptors beat you on jump shots, and if they do, they earned it. Rebounding has also been an absolute mess for Brooklyn thus far, the simple lack of size doing most of the damage. We obviously lack size, but maybe getting Blatche a bit more playing time (the only one who can match Val/Toronto’s bigs physically) could help. Whatever it is, the Nets need to get better inside.
2: What is your biggest concern heading into games 3 and 4?
Justin: Kyle Lowry, still. Lowry is the one player on Toronto that can truly gash us, in a way I still believe DeRozan can’t, if he gets hot. The Nets have yet to deal with one of Lowry’s hot streaks in this series, and Lowry seems to thrive off being the villain. If he gets hot at Barclays, the Nets will be in for a serious battle.
Anthony: My biggest concern moving forward is the Nets’ lack of rebounding. You’re probably thinking, “yeah but this team has been getting out-rebounded and still finds ways to win.” I understand this team has been consistently out-rebounded through the better part of the season. But they have been completely destroyed on the glass. After just two games in Toronto, the Raptors have out-rebounded the Nets 97-67. For our non-math majors reading, that’s 30 rebounds in TWO games. Yikes. It’s one thing to keep the Raptors out of transition. It’s one thing to continue to turn the Raptors over. But if the Nets aren’t closing out possessions with defensive rebounds, extra opportunities for the Raptors could end up costing Brooklyn a game in this series.
Jake: The rotation. Kidd doesn’t seem to be set on who he wants to play. Mirza seems to be the go to backup 4 to Pierce, which I like. Kirilenko, Blatche and Thornton are essentially fighting for 2 spots and Kidd doesn’t want to play Plumlee and Blatche together.
Jordan: I don’t have any particularly big concerns heading into this weekend. I’m hoping that the Nets start out game 3 strong and bring the Raptors back to earth after their game 2 win. If Brooklyn comes out flat and Toronto comes out riding high after their game 2 win, it could prove problematic.
Dylan: Jason Kidd’s rotations have certainly made me a bit antsy to start the series, and I’ve gotten increasingly concerned with how minutes and rotations will be handled in the coming games. Andrei Kirilenko proved in game two he absolutely needs to be on the floor, and Mirza finally stepped up. But I’m not sure I fully trust Kidd to get the right guys enough minutes and get the starters on the floor down the stretch when needed.
3: Jason Kidd says that he will not waver on Kevin Garnett’s minutes, even though we all do not like that. Should we be worried.
Justin: I know I have long said that everyone is overreacting to Kidd’s minutes management (you can’t expect 35-40 minutes from older guys a whole season), but there is concern here. Unless Plumlee starts playing like the guy from March and April, or Blatche provides more consistency, KG is by far the Nets’ best big: the Nets are +17 with him on the floor and -15 with him off this series, and those numbers aren’t misleading (sometimes +/- can be): he is able to at least mitigate the damage Valanciunas doles out. The way the series is going, the Nets do not need to win the rebounding battle, but while they can lose it, they can’t get destroyed in it. KG playing 25-28 minutes would be a huge boost.
Anthony: Like most of us, I’m puzzled at the notion of keeping Garnett’s minutes restricted throughout the playoffs. He has played about 18-20 mpg throughout the season, a number most of us figured was to preserve Garnett for the postseason. He’s exceptional at communicating on defense, defending the pick and roll, and his defensive rebounding is highly coveted on this Nets team. All of this begs the question: why isn’t Garnett seeing more time on the floor? Is Kidd being extraordinarily cautious with KG’s recent back spasms that caused him to miss 19 straight games? Does KG have an injury that the team is keeping to themselves? Does Kidd plan to increase his minutes if the Nets advance deeper into the playoffs? I’ve struggled to make sense of this one Nets fans. I’m hoping Kidd has a method to his madness.
Jake: I’d love an extra 5 minutes out of him, but I’m not worried because I think we all expected this to happen. Plumlee looks okay out there but the likes of Kirilenko, Johnson, Livingston and Pierce will have to do some dirty work to limit how much we get killed on the glass.
Jordan: I don’t think we should have any cause for concern to be honest. We can disagree and be upset with some of his decisions but I think that at the end of the day, coach Kidd has done a pretty solid job with his rotations this year. I think after all of the rest he got during the final month or so of the season that KG should be fresh enough to play at least 25 mpg in the playoffs, but hey, that’s why I’m not the coach I guess.
Dylan: A little bit, but not too much. KG should definitely get a bit more playing time, he could definitely handle 25 minutes with at least a day off in between every game. However, this is the way the Nets have played for more than half the season. Plumlee, while looking like a bit of a rookie, being overmatched at times, has overall played well and not been phased by the playoff intensity. Between him and Andray Blatche, they’ve done a very good job throughout the year playing the majority of minutes at the center position when KG is out. That hasn’t changed and I don’t see any reason it will change for the rest of the playoffs.
4: Who is the Nets’ X Factor heading into games 3-4.
Justin: I hate to go there, but I will pick Deron Williams. If he outplays Lowry, which he did in game 1 but not in game 2, he simply makes everyone better, elevates the team, and solves many of the Nets’ problems involving rebounding, and relying on others to hit their triples. Literally, all the Nets did in game 1 was get a star level Deron, and couple that with Joe controlling his matchups with smaller defenders (totally foreseeable) and an aggressive defense: that got them a road win over a 48-34 team without hitting shots. Star level Deron will go a LONG way towards potentially winning this series.
Anthony: The Nets’ x-factor for games 3, 4, and beyond? Am I allowed to say the entire bench? Mirza and Marcus Thornton are virtually useless if they aren’t hitting their jumpers. Both players are very capable scorers, but their defensive deficiencies make it difficult to give Kidd a reason to keep either player on the floor for extended minutes. One of these two players needs to add some scoring off the bench in both games 3 and 4 if the Nets want to take a commanding 3-1 advantage in the series. Plumlee has been fantastic in his limited role for the Nets ever since he cracked the starting lineup from Garnett’s absence and subsequently became Garnett’s backup once he returned from injury. If Mason can stay out of foul trouble, Kidd can keep Blatche on the bench because frankly, his defense is terrible. With that said, I can see a game in which Blatche is inserted for some spot minutes and goes “Full Blatcheness” on us; the good kind. This team is regarded as one of the deepest teams in the league. It hasn’t showed…..yet.
Jake: Teletovic has a 6-8 from 3pt land game up his sleeve I think. He doesn’t look flustered by the big moment and believes in his shot. Kirilenko showed glimpses in Game 2 of being a difference maker. I’d love a throwback twenty five minute performance of 8 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals , 2 blocks game from him.
Jordan: The popular answers to this question are typically Thornton and Teletovic, however, I don’t think it is either of them. My answer might sound a little bit crazy but I think the X Factor this weekend will be Mason Plumlee. I know Plumlee isn’t really seen as a game-changer but I think he is going to be huge in these next two games for two reasons. The Nets have been out-rebounded terribly in this season and I’m sure his teammates and coaching staff have made sure that he knows this fact – look for him to step up and play a big role on the boards. The second reason I see him as an X Factor is his verticality. If Plumlee gets loose on a couple fast breaks and throws down a couple alley oops – the Brooklyn crowd will feed off his energy and pump it back into the players on the court.
Dylan: The X-Factor this weekend for me personally would be Mirza Teletovic. He stepped up in game two, hitting some big shots when needed, and I believe he can continue doing so. Mirza has proven he’s a big game player, as evident in many of the Miami-Brooklyn classic battles. If Mirza can come in to both games, knock down some threes and play with a bunch of energy, it could go a LONG way in getting two victories this weekend at Barclays.
5: Predictions for this weekend:
Justin: I am confident in this team. I am always talking about how in the playoffs, you must guard to win and must play with intensity and passion. The Nets have shown us that passion. They’re fighting, they’re aggressive, they’re talking trash, and they’re fully locked in. I really believe they can open this series up if they hit shots, and they have earned the opportunity to take command by swiping away home court. I am hopeful and confident they will win both games this weekend and take a 3-1 edge.
Anthony: I’ll be as objective as possible when I say this, but I fully expect the Nets (28-13 at home this season) to win both Game 3 and Game 4 this weekend. It comes down to execution, and I find it hard to believe the Nets will continue to shoot 43% from the field. I look forward to seeing some defensive adjustments from the Raptors side on how to play Joe Johnson. He’s had his way for two straight games now. If they decide to hard-double him on the block, JJ has to be quick to find his teammates for open looks and driving lanes to the basket. Look for the Raptors to be more decisive on defense. It’s going to depend on our in-game adjustments and execution in order to successfully counter their defensive adjustments. Also, with DeRozan going off for 30 in Game 2, look for the Nets to show him a bunch of different looks to try to keep him in check.
Jake: That the Nets will win AT LEAST 2 games at home. I’d be very disappointed and surprised if the Raptors win the series.
Jordan: I think the young and inexperienced Raptors will be overwhelmed by what should be an incredibly hostile Brooklyn crowd and the Nets will take advantage. As KG said, I don’t know if you can say “F*** Brooklyn” and then come into Brooklyn. Nets win games 3 and 4.
Dylan: The veteran Nets want this, and know this is the time to get it done. Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Sun continue to disrespect and throw jabs at them, and I’m positive they’re going to respond in a big way. I see the Nets taking both games this weekend and putting Toronto on the brink as they had back above the border.
It should be a great weekend of playoff basketball in Brooklyn. Go Nets!