Prepping for tonight’s final regular season game versus intra-division rival Brooklyn; I found the number 5 permeating throughout my notes.

  • Having topped last season’s win total, Toronto is closing in on securing a post season berth after a 5-year absence.
  • Raptors stopped Brooklyn 5-game win streaks twice.
  • Garnett missed his fifth straight game Sunday with back spasms.
  • A Raptor win tonight would increase their division margin by 5 in both the win and loss columns

Before we break it down, John Daigle of ESPN True Hoop Network and blog writer for Brooklyn’s Finest was kind enough to answer a few questions:

At the deadline Brooklyn added Marcus Thornton. He adds versatility, 3-point scoring and ball handling to an already solid bench.  Given Johnson, Pierce and Williams could all use some rest heading into the playoffs do you envision Thornton’s role will increase in the final 20 games?

I’d imagine Thornton’s role continues to evolve based on the sheer need for a role player such as himself. Since coming over from the Kings he’s logged 20+ minutes in six out of seven appearances, shooting at a slightly better rate. There’s no denying he’ll sprinkle in a dud here and there (Boston, anyone?), but that goes hand in hand with what he brings to the table. Take for instance his 25-point performance against Milwaukee. The Nets were reeling, the Bucks – for whatever reason – were sticking around and Brooklyn just couldn’t manage to gain an edge. Enter Marcus Thornton, who scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. He fills the void that we all imagined Terry would seamlessly mold into (spoiler alert: he didn’t) and that kind of style will allow him nearly all the freedom he wants on this roster.

Shaun Livingston entered the league when the trend of big point guards was growing in popularity, but a horrendous knee injury seemingly ended his career. Six years and ten teams later, Livingston is once again playing a crucial role as a starter. Aside from the fact Livingston is arguably the NBA feel good story of the year, what intangibles has he brought to the Nets and how much of the recent winning can be attributed to him?

Don’t get me wrong, Livingston has been outstanding recently. I just think when you talk about his season, you can’t go a paragraph without vehemently highlighting what he accomplished while Williams was sidelined. Injuries continued stacking, essentially forcing off-the-radar names such as Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic and Livingston into the lineup. But look at his numbers during that span: 9.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 46 FG%. Nothing special, right? Of course not, and all because his impact (mostly) shined at the other end of the floor.

Currently allowing 107 points per 100 possessions, Livingston trimmed that number by an entire six points during his stint as a starter. I feel like he still struggles against smaller, more explosive guards, but hey, who doesn’t? The fact of the matter is, as much as Patrick Beverley (Rockets) is touted as an annoying on-ball defender, Livingston is that with an additional drive-and-kick game. His size allows him to avoid being bullied in the paint and his quickness makes up for the rest. It may be crazy talk, but if we’re ranking potential Net MVP’s, the discussion has to include Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, whatever guy told Jason Kidd to stop wearing ties and Livingston.

With the loss of Brook Lopez, the Nets revamped their style to small-ball with Pierce moving to power forward.  Since January, Brooklyn is 21-9 and a game over .500. Small ball limits rebound opportunities, but the Nets now feature a wing heavy starting line-up who excels at scoring and moving the ball. What is the key to stopping this line-up?

Oddly enough, Brooklyn is their own worst enemy. It’s not really about stopping their scoring opportunities, though I’m sure that’s what teams prefer to hone in on. Their weakness is actually on the defensive side of the floor. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve probably seen the numerous small-ball numbers which display their vast improvements and, to be quite honest, those increments are factually dead-on. What they don’t show, however, is how the Nets now choose to gamble with percentages.

Let’s say Lowry receives a Johnson PNR at some point during tonight’s game. With no true center on the court, Brooklyn now makes an effort to overplay each and every pick, essentially assuming which direction the guard will choose to go. If Lowry goes left, the corner defender will creep up, the on-ball defender will take a few steps in and their teammate on the opposite side will, at the least, check the screener for a potential slash. If your head hasn’t exploded, this potentially leaves an open shooter at the opposite key. The thing is, you’re now forced to pass across the court, leaving either enough time for the defense to readjust or allowing the center to gamble on a steal. It’s a tough way to live, but as of now it’s paying off.

Garnett is the captain of Brooklyn’s defense, so how successful can the Nets expect to be in the next 20 games and the playoffs if his back continues to force his absence from the line-up?

Luck of the draw. If the Nets continue to grasp the sixth seed, they’re mostly likely looking at a first round match-up against, you guessed it, Toronto. And considering the youth on the Raptors, Brooklyn, if anything, could hang their hats on their accumulated experience. But if they survive an opening round, you’re looking at a seven-game slug-fest against either Indiana or Miami. The regular season will play itself out accordingly, but without KG, the juggernauts of the East will be an entirely different story.

Toronto sits atop the Atlantic with a 4-game lead and hold a 3-game edge in division wins.  With no clear advantage in scheduling, is it safe to say this is a must win for Brooklyn to keep their hopes of winning the division alive or based on Williams comments is their goal simply to qualify as high as possible? 

Consistency is clearly important, but right now it’s all about getting better. Guys like Plumlee, Collins and Thornton are going to matter come playoffs, so it’s crucial to continue giving them work. Fortunately, with a seven-game lead over the likes of Detroit (can’t play defense), New York (can’t play defense) and Cleveland (might play defense, but probably not), there’s room to work with. But that’s what makes this final stretch exciting, no?

Position Breakdown

Point Guard: Williams has a size advantage, however Lowry tends to play like a beast in these types of games (January 27: 31 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals).

Edge: Raptors

Shooting Guard: As per John’s comments Livingston has been brilliant on the defensive end  and he’ll likely get the assignment to cover DeRozan who is due for a break-out shooting game.

Edge: Raptors

Small Forward: Johnson presents a tough defensive assignment for Ross who fortunately has enough length to address Johnson’s height. Ross is shooting 69% from behind the arc since returning from his ankle injury (11 of 16).

Edge: Nets

Power Forward: For the second consecutive game Pierce took a shot to his shoulder and left the game with a stinger, but given the playoff implications I suspect he’ll play.  Johnson tweaked his ankle Friday so he’ll need help defending Pierce.

Edge: Nets

Center: The biggest question tonight is will Garnett play. If Brooklyn wants a remote shot of catching the Raptors he will; if not, it speaks to how serious his back issues are. Last game Valanciunas held his own versus KG (20 points, 13 rebounds).  The Nets are abysmal on the boards (29 RPG, 28 ORPG)

Edge: A coming out party for Valanciunas

Bench: Raptor killer: Blatche seems to produce his best results versus Toronto and Anderson will be amped to give it to his old team. Thornton has paid dividends, but following games where he scores 20 points his next game is less productive. Kirilenko will be a game time decision.

Patterson who had the key steal and game winner January, 27 is out (elbow). Novak’s been hot, Hansbrough gets up for these games and Vasquez could be a difference maker. The Nets rank 26 defending the three so expect Toronto to get a bunch up and exploit the gambles Brooklyn makes on defense.

Edge:  Raptors

The Line:

Vegas says:  Brooklyn favored by 2, public consensus leaning 51% to Brooklyn,  over/under: 196.5

Tamberlyn says:  Not since the Carter era can I recall a Raptor team with this type of swagger. They have a chip on their shoulder and they should. Pundits denounced Toronto’s chances of winning the Atlantic or maintaining the third seed, discarding the fact Toronto has occupied that position for the majority of the season.  We are witnessing the rise of a young team with laser focus, intent on sending a message to their opposition, the media and the Association.

Tonight’s game will probably be a slug-fest regardless of who suits up. They know Brooklyn is a possible first round opponent and I fully expect Toronto to send the message regarding what Brooklyn can expect should they meet in April.  I’m calling for a Raptor win by, (you guessed it) 5 points.


  • Last Toronto road loss: February 7
  • Last Brooklyn home loss: January 31
  • Brooklyn 4-10 in second game of back-to-backs

Follow me on twitter @TTOTambz

Share this:

    give the pf nod to the raptors Novak will turn into supernovak once again.

  • Why

    If Piece plays at PF there is less of a need for Hayes tonight and maybe an opportunity for Fields?

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      Certainly Fields is an option as he provides length and defense. Novak is likely to get some time given how poorly Brooklyn defend the three (and his presence will spread the floor).

      I also think Hayes may get some run simply because Amir Johnson hurt his ankle again Friday so I would imagine Casey will want to take it easy on those ankles.

      Who gets minutes will depend on fouls, whether Garnett, Kirilenko and Pierce play and whether JV has a monster game. (I’m betting he will).

      • Rapchat

        Im new on here (month-ish) and enjoy your posts and comments Tamb!

        • Tamberlyn Richardson

          Thanks so much. I appreciate people reading them and commenting. Great so many fans are engaged with the team this season 🙂

  • Angling Saxon

    Intra-division rival, not inter-division rival.

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      I’d love to claim dyslexia but unfortunately it was just a Tambism. Thanks for the head’s up I corrected it.

  • robertparish00

    Hope the Raps run those old bastards off the floor.

  • Ogi

    This “brooklyn’s finest’ link is redirecting to “Warriors World”

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      Sorry about that, try it again

  • Tanks-a-lot

    Hollinger rankings has the Raps at 9 behind all the 40+ game winners. Hopefully the Timberwolves stay down.

  • rapierraptor

    Great questions, Tamberlyn. I love that you all utilize the Truehoop community. I learn a lot from these gameday write-ups. For example, I had no idea that Livingston was such a good defender. Analysis of his actual on court performance is almost always obscured by his injury/comeback story. A win tonight against an hungry Nets team would even FURTHER prove the mettle of this group.

    p.s. I hope you’re right about Jonas. I was REALLY impressed by his toughness the last time these teams met.

  • caccia

    With Patterson out and Johnson hobbling, Casey may again be forced to play Hansbrough, whom he seems to dislike, but who will once again respond with an excellent game just because.

  • Zimdim

    Nice write up

  • Guest

    I don’t have access to all of the Hollinger stats, and I know it’s a road game and I know I’m drunk on recent results, BUT… I don’t see how the Raps are the underdogs AND the majority of money is against them.

    • rapierraptor

      Probably mostly because Brooklyn has won 14 of their last 16 at home.

      • Guest

        You’re not wrong, I think.
        But one can always pick a small sample size to support a view. Raps have won 9 of 11, 6 of 7 and won the only other game played on the Nets’ court.
        I’m not saying it’s a sure win, it just doesn’t seem like we should be giving two points to these guys.

        • rapierraptor

          Yeah, I agree. I seriously have no clue how they formulate these things – just throwing out a guess.

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      I actually asked someone about this. Vegas gives a 2.5 to 3 point edge automatically to the home team. Factor in Brooklyn is unbeaten at home since January 31, and that they are 21-9 in 2014.

      As per my comments on the lack of respect Toronto gets, well this is another example. I’m not taking the Nets current hot streak for granted, however Toronto is 21-11 in 2014 and could well be 21-10 at evening’s end.

      Furthermore the Raps haven’t lost on the road since February 7, and are 9-2 in their last 11 games. Factor in those two losses could easily have been wins if not for a missed goal tending call (Chicago) or a win in a triple over time game that saw Ross leave early and several Raptors play with foul trouble with Johnson, Patterson and Lowry eventually fouling out.

      Perhaps its due to the Raptors getting less coverage by the U.S. audience, but based on the top sentence I’d say it’s actually Toronto the odds makers think will win given the home court rule.

      As far as the majority, it was a very slim majority which is a sign the Raptors are finally getting noticed. I’ve seen teams who have no business being favored get the nod (even on our court) so perhaps times are changing. Having said that I’m not sure it’s a bad thing if things remain the same given how this team is driven to prove everyone wrong. If they start getting respect they’ll have to find new motivation!

      • Guest

        Yeah, maybe Kidd can get away with spilling his drink on the sideline in BK.
        A good explanation, although emotionally I prefer your 5-pt win analysis over the home-advantage gift given by the risk-takers.
        Here we go!

  • Tamberlyn Richardson

    Looks like my gut instincts were on the mark: Paul Pierce WILL play. Kirilenko will not. Garnett was listed as playing and was a late scratch. Hmm… perhaps that back is worse than suspected.

    • Guest

      Leo and Matt just said that Garnett is scratched.

      • Tamberlyn Richardson

        Yeah I updated as soon as I heard it; I tend to PVR the game because I sometimes get sidetracked so I was about a min behind the announcement. Thanks though

        • Guest

          Same same. It helps you deal with half-time too. Am I right?

          • Tamberlyn Richardson

            Yep besides I detest commercials so I’d rather be a min behind as I’ll always catch up 🙂

  • Guest

    Jason Kidd: Shave.

  • noname

    i think this is going to be a 10 pt win for the raps… they are playing well and have the advantage in terms of young talent. plus i got this gut feeling…