Four trends to note in the pivotal game of the series.

How’s the intensity of playoff basketball treating you, Raptors fans?

Me, personally, I was living and dying on every missed shot and made free-throw at the ACC on Tuesday. I rocked the free tee, belted out ‘O, Cananda’ and in all likelihood, taught two pre-puebescent kids every swear word known to mankind. I don’t know about you, but illegal screens from KG gets me riled up. Just switch KG with the names of your guardians, kids!

I digress. Lost amidst the cathartic relief and falling streamers after Tuesday’s win, was the fact that the series was long from over. With Brooklyn and Toronto splitting the first two games, the series now becomes a best-of-five, with home court advantage favoring the lovely hipster-borough of Brooklyn.

At this point, the Raptors and Nets find themselves in something similar to a political race. Instead of wasting resources on their secured states, of which cannot be changed in the short-term, the two teams are angling for every advantage they can get in the swing states. President Barack Obama didn’t become president by winning the state of New York. Rather, he won because he limited his turnovers and secured the glass. Either that, or I’m getting my metaphors mixed up. With that in mind, let’s focus on the four keys to victory.

1. Limit turnovers

Call it jitters, credit the Nets’ small-ball defense, defenestrate DeRozan’s handles — dole out the blame wafers as you see fit, but 19 and 20 turnovers in games one and two leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Here’s one thing traditionalists and nouveau sabermatricians agree on: limiting turnovers is a good thing. Like most sports, winning the possession advantage is vital to victory.

turnover

The needlessly childish infogram above shows a breakdown of the Raptors’ turnovers through two games. The obvious standout is Valanciunas, who has turned the ball over more than anyone else. The lazy answer is to blame it all on “playoff jitters”, but I think something else is to blame, and it’s a trend that has borne out over the regular season.

As Zarar likes to point out, Jonas often makes the mistake of keeping the ball low near the rim, which is allowing the Nets to defend them the only way they can — by stripping the ball. Most teams actually have shot-blockers who elect to challenge Jonas at the rim, but the Nets’ strategy of small-ball is akin to, ironically, the Raptors in Jurassic Park. They’re most effective when nipping at the heels of giants like Jonas, so he just needs to keep the ball high, and he’ll be fine.

The more worrisome trend is Kyle Lowry’s turnovers because they’re an indication that the Nets’ swarming defense is working. By sacrificing height, they’ve maximized their mobility, which is wreaking havoc and shutting down passing lanes. A lot of Lowry’s turnovers have come in the pick-and-roll where he’s forcing passes through narrow slivers of space, or over-top of taller defenders. Unfortunately, there isn’t much the Raptors can do on this one.

Overall, limiting turnovers is important because both teams are scoring at the same rate, and I mean literally the same — the eFG% of both teams is within 0.1 percentage points of each other. Therefore, the goal is to win the possession battle.

2. Keep dominating the glass

How did the Raptors overcome a -10 margin in turnovers? By out-rebounding the Nets 52-30. Much of the credit goes to Jonas Valanciunas, who has managed to grab a total of 32 rebounds. He has helped the Raptors jump out to a +30 edge in rebounds in the series thus far.

In part, the advantage is a product of the schemes being employed. The Raptors should out-rebound the Nets given that they’re playing a larger lineup. However, the Raptors have actually been buoyed by Kyle Lowry, who has managed to grab 16 rebounds in two games despite being the shortest player on the court. If they’re unable to close the turnover gap, the Raptors need to make up for it by continuing to dominate the glass. Having Jonas Valanciunas relatively free of foul-trouble helps in this regard.

3. Can Greivis Vasquez maintain his stellar production?

Despite DeRozan’s fourth-quarter heroics, the unsung hero of Game 2 was Greivis Vasquez, who followed up his 18-point, 8-assist performance in Game 1 with a 11-point, 8-assist output in Game 2. He has been the one player who the Nets have been unable to stop, and without his spark off the bench, the Raptors would have likely lost both games.

As I predicted in the ESPN 5-on-5 preview, Vasquez is the X-Factor for this series because his performance — in particular, his shooting — isn’t contingent on the performance of the opposing defenses. He simply gets hot from time to time, and there’s no stopper on the Nets’ bench.

The worry is that he can also get cold at a moment’s notice, and if the Raptors are counting on him to be a 15&8 guy off the bench, they’re bound to be let down more often than not. However, there is something to be said for Casey’s smart deployment of Vasquez, namely by playing him alongside DeRozan in the second unit, which forces players like Marcus Thornton — a terrible defender — to cover Vasquez while the more disciplined defender (Anderson or Kirilenko) to check DeMar. Vasquez has also been effective as the primary ball-handler in the 2-PG lineup with Lowry, as he has a much easier time passing over-top of doubles thanks to his height (6’6).

4. Can Terrence Ross find his three-point stroke before the Nets do?

Here’s a weird stat: the Brooklyn Nets are shooting 23% from deep in 48 attempts from deep thus far. During the regular season, the Nets shot a collective 37% from beyond the arc. Regression says: winter is coming for the North.

For what it’s worth, the Raptors have done a good job closing out on shooters, but the Nets are simply missing a lot of open shots. In particular, Mirza Teletovic showed signs of snapping out of his funk in Game 2, after bricking several wide-open looks in the first game.

And I know I’m not the only one who shit a brick when Pierce took this shot.

The Nets’ shooting woes are bound to end, it’s just a matter of when. In essence, it’s a matter of arbitrage — can players like Terrence Ross snap out of their funks before the Nets end theirs? Ross has only managed to score 5 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field, and the Raptors have found much more success with him off the court, rather than on. Ross will invariably struggle with Johnson on offense, but he has to help his cause by doing a better job of running Johnson through a maze of screens on the other end. The Raptors can ill-afford Ross’ slump to persist.

Prediction

I think playing on the road will actually be a relief for the Raptors.

To borrow a phrase from Matt Weiner, we “reek of it like a sweaty salesman knocking on his last door.” We’re so sick of being terrible, we’re so worried about losing, we’re so scared that this season turns out to a mirage — whatever it is, we choke the atmosphere at the ACC toxic with tension, and the players are suffocated by it. Unlike the seasoned crowds in Portland and OKC, we only cheer when the Raptors are up, and when things go south, there’s a deafening silence that rings louder than any “KG SUCKS!” chant. It’s going to help the Raptors to be away from here for a while.

On the year, the Raptors boasted the best road-record in the East with 22-wins against 19-losses, but the Nets held the third-best record at home. Vegas likes the Nets as 5 point favorites, with more money favoring the Nets than the Raptors.

Personally, I think it’s going to be another close contest, as neither team has truly shown itself to be the superior team. However, if the Raptors are able to cut down on their turnovers, and get Ross going, they should win this one. My hometown bias has me feeling optimistic. 2 point victory.

  • arsenalist

    Game 3 is never pivotal, it’s Game 4 which is because it can blow a 2-1 series apart by taking it to 3-1, or start a best-of-three by making it 2-2. Tonight’s game is obviously important, but a loss can be recovered from.

    • DanH

      True. It would be nice to go into game 4 with worst case being a split though.

      • Gary Gill

        This is a very important game!! I think whoever wins this game I think will win the series. Raptors need to grab home Court right away. If they win today and win Sunday they can go up 3 – 1. If they lose nets have momentum and worst case can be we’re down 1 – 3.

    • Marz

      Foolish arsenalist. Every game is pivotal!

      I want to see KG cry. Please make him cry again, Raptors.

    • monocled_gentleman_scholar

      This is a must-win for the Nets, but not a must-win for us.

    • sleepz

      No doubt. Game 4 is the game that usually decides if it’s going to be a 6-7 gamer or if a team goes up 3-1 is going to most likely close it out at some point.

      • Musik

        That’s usually how it works…

    • Abused Raptors Fan

      Actually, the statistics suggest that game is a pivotal game. When a 7 game series is tied after the first 2 games, the team who wins game 3 goes on to win the series 75% of the time (not sure on the exact number unfortunately). If the higher seeded team wins they regain home court advantage, if the lower seeded team wins, they’ve go up 2-1 heading into game 4 at home.

      • asifyouknow

        Just need to make this a 3 game series..Toronto has two of them at home…

    • KJ-B

      I agree, Sunday is the must win, it’s all about momentum heading into game 5–the winner of game 5 inevitably wins almost every series! It’s possible to win tonight then lose 3 straight.

      Raps are getting a little overconfident. Slow y’all roll! Still hope they win.. Respect those vets!

    • RobertArchibald

      Saw a stat that stated that if a series is tied after 2 games, the winner of game 3 takes the series 73% of the time. Obviously, it’s not 100% but it’s still significant.

    • CJT

      Last night Barkley said that in a series that are tied after two games, the team that wins game 3 wins the series 77% of the time. That sounds fairly pivotal to me.

    • asifyouknow

      Toronto gets to 2-2 series then you got a best of 3 with two in Toronto. That is a good plan…lol

  • afrocarter

    That infographic is info-epic

  • DC

    As Obama is a basketball fan. he might be reading this and will not be amused by your spelling of his given name. He might order you confined to barracks.

    • DDayLewis

      I need to stop writing at 1 AM in the morning.

  • ad

    See, the thing is the nets have shown they are kind of superior. They have had way better looks at the rim and the shots for them arent falling. The raps are basically fighting for every point. The raps need to really cut down on turnovers on the road. For a young team, this is the more gettable game I think. Brookyln will be adjusting to their home floor and might ahve some jitters like the raps in game 1. If they lose this, game 4 would be tougher to get I feel. Whatever happens, I just hope that its not like in 2007 when we went to play the nets on road in that playoff series.

  • Rapchat

    GET PUMPED FOR TONIGHT!!!! Check out the F@@K BROOKLYN promo I just cut!!! Heavy rotation all day (good beats)…

    https://vimeo.com/92931945

    • DC

      What’s the point of the street-violence in the video? Certainly not part of the culture that’s wanted here.

      • Rapchat

        Er um…its a parity. Culture? I can only assume you’re not from Toronto? That was the G8 summit in Toronto where anyone walking the streets was taken to jail. TO citizens stood up against the tyrants in black (BKN metaphor as well). You might be right though… standing up for yourself may be the wrong message here?

        • DC

          The last G8 summit in Canada was held in Huntsville in 2010. You may be referring to the G20 summit that followed in Toronto. This blog is hardly the place to debate the events that happened in the streets then.
          Any suggestion that the fan fervor for these playoffs should be escalated into street violence – such as the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riots – is idiotic.
          The absence of accolades for your video on this blog, and on Vimeo, indicates that I’m not the only one who thinks this way. End of discussion.

          • Rapchat

            P-A-R-I-T-Y. Read the first sentence again. It was a 30 second PARITY in a 15 minute video- playing on MU’s FUCK BROOKLYN. Obviously you didn’t get it. That’s Okay. The video has been played in 18 countries in 24 hrs. EAT IT. END DISCUSSION.

      • Rapchat

        Also.. how do you feel about the FUCK BROOKLYN theme? Is that culture okay? Cuz I didn’t start that…

  • FREEJV

    Jonas will get us that victorybaby

    • tonious35

      ‘Dat WICTORY Baby!!

  • ValanInuyashaSSS

    Expect NO Calls in the entire game. Three guys that scares me the most Johnson, Teletovic, and AK47(his craftiness, steal the ball, and his defense)

    • FREEJV

      kirilenko has no offense doesnt scare me

  • Kevin

    Good luck raptors fans, this game should be great! I know i’m going to get hate but I don’t care, LETS GO NETS! (:

    • DDayLewis

      It’s all love, Netsbro. We hate your team, your franchise, your coach and your players, not you.

      Oh, and F*ck Brooklyn too. You’re basically that island of men in the battle for middle, with all the ground around you crumbling due to the Ring’s destruction in Lord of the Rings.

      • Abused Raptors Fan

        Well that, and if the Nets lose the series its pretty much downhill from there as they could lose 4 of their key contributors this summer (KG/Pierce to retirement, and Livingston/Blatche/Pierce to free agency) but they lack the cap room to sign any quality replacements, and will have to rely on to vet’s minimum contracts to fill out the roster (although that’s not necessarily a death sentence -see The Heat, Miami).
        Meanwhile, if the Raptors lose, they weren’t supposed to win anyways, and are still a young team with potential who now has valuable playoff experience and at least a degree respect in the league. Overall, I’d say all the pressure is on the Nets lol.

        • DDayLewis

          True, but then Mikhail could always pull some shit like he did with AK47. No doubt the Nets are built for now, while the Raptors have some upward motility.

      • asifyouknow

        Dammmmm!!!! lol you are cold!!!

  • KJ-B

    I don’t like the yapping a whole lot coming out of the Raps camp –win OR lose– calm down boyz and act like you’ve been there before…

    • feylines

      we haven’t, so

  • asifyouknow

    New York media blaming Vasquez for keeping raptors in the games…..Nets are going after him tonight..Vaz may struggle…

  • Pedro-

    Good first quarter

  • Chewwy No Matthew

    I’m still trying to figure out why Casey had DeMar and Vasquez off the floor to end the first half. Nets went on a run and the crowd got into the game. Casey is absolutely brutal

    • Pedro-

      Both can’t defend and DD needed the rest.

  • Chewwy No Matthew

    Ross cannot and should not be handling the ball

    • Pedro-

      I say he shouldn’t be playing many minutes. 0 offence getting easily beaten by JJ, turning it over. Simply horrible