Before the series began, part of your preview coverage included a back-and-forth with Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game. With the series halfway done (give or take a game), we thought it would be worthwhile to check back in with the Brooklyn side of things with another Q&A.
As a refresher, The Brooklyn Game should be a daily stop during this season, and Devin runs the show there. That includes appearances on YES and, of course, free cookies and cupcakes in the Barclays Center media area.
Blake: So, three games later it still doesn’t feel like we know much more than we did at the start of the series. The Nets now lead 2-1 and have a 4-3 season edge, and the gap between the teams over those seven games is just a point. Are we any closer to knowing who the better team is?
Devin: I don’t think so. The Nets stealing Game 1 in Toronto was big — to put it plainly, they played like a team that had been there before and the Raptors didn’t. But I’m not sure either team loses at home again at this point. Neither team’s played particularly well in this series, but they also play such different brands of basketball it more depends on which team’s imposing their style on the game.
Blake: Now that DeMar DeRozan has shaken off the early-series struggles, are the Nets at all worried? What adjustments would you expect to see in their coverage of him?
Devin: I don’t think there’s much adjustment to do. Dwane Casey noted after the game that the ball stagnated in the second and third quarters as DeRozan went for a few too many isolations, and I think with him you just play him straight up when he drives, and let the help in the paint force him into making a decision. He’s had two big games, but those have come mostly at the foul line — the Nets will take a 17-43 shooting performance from him over two games.
Blake: Why did the Raptors completely go away from Jonas Valanciunas in Game 3? I know you’re a Nets reporter, not a Raptors one, but I don’t have an answer. You’re welcome, I guess, and please return the favor by benching Joe Johnson for Game 4.
Devin: Valanciunas’s biggest advantage in this series isn’t scoring in the post, it’s dominating the glass. It seems like every possession he’s bullying anyone the Nets put next to him. He should be getting second-chance points on put-backs all day long. Getting him in foul trouble in Game 3 didn’t hurt the Nets, either.
Outsider Interlude with Jared Dubin of Grantland, Bloomberg, HP, etc.:
Well, before the series I said this match-up would come down to the battle of Paul Pierce and Amir Johnson, and I think I was half-right. Joe Johnson is a problem. None of the Raptors’ wings can guard him on the block, and the creates openings for everybody else on the floor. Landry Fields has done the best job on him, but he’s basically unplayable on the offensive end because he can’t shoot. Terrence Ross is too small for the job, and DeMar DeRozan needs to save his energy to help carry the offense. Until Toronto figures something out, Brooklyn’s going to have its way on offense. On the other end, I love the way Lowry is attacking the rim, but he needs to do it more, and more under control. I still have no idea which way this series will go, other than I feel like it’s going 7. I know that’s a cop-out, but that’s the way I’ve felt about this series the whole time.
Devin: What do you know/think about the Nets now that we’re three games in that you didn’t before Game 1? What has surprised you about your Raptors?
Blake: I admittedly didn’t expect Joe Johnson to be quite this big a problem. I knew he would cause match-up issues and probably destroy DeRozan, but 23.7 points on 60.5 percent shooting is a little extreme. Other than the degree of his dominance, the series has played out fairly close to how many expected, I think, including myself.
Devin: We’ve heard a lot of talk down here from Toronto folks about refereeing going against the Raptors. If you look at the foul/FT disparity, it’s almost dead even (both teams were 29-37 in Game 2 from the line), but a few big bad calls swung against Toronto late. Do you think there’s a bias issue?
Blake: At the risk of our readers turning on me, I really don’t. I’ve been accused of false equivalency so far, but I honestly think the officiating has just been bad, period, which makes bias difficult to discern. Maybe a few more calls or non-calls have gone Brooklyn’s way, but the early tone of the series also now has Raptors fans looking for calls to get upset about. Sure would be nice if Game 4 was called well, though, just to get the focus back on the players.
Devin: Kyle Lowry could barely walk at the end of Game 3 and the Raptors still almost erased a 15-point lead. Can they win if he’s not 100%?
Blake: They can. It’s an uphill battle if he’s less than 100 percent, but he’s played through minor issues a fair amount this year, anyway. He wasn’t quite himself in Game 3, but even a 70 percent Kyle Lowry is a pretty damn fine player. With that said, if it’s anything remotely serious, that could be enough to swing a series this close.
Outsider Interlude with Michael Pina of Grantland, Fox Sports, TrueHoop, etc.:
How do we know the Brooklyn Nets are imposing their will in this series? Landry Field and Tyler Hansbrough combined for 16 minutes in Game 3’s loss. Despite some speedy, solid team defense forcing the Nets into some uncomfortable possessions, Brooklyn’s size on the outside is proving to be too much for Toronto. Unless Terrence Ross hits some shots and gives Dwane Casey a reason to keep him on the floor, and Jonas Valanciunas (not-so-quietly having an impressive series) stops fouling everything in sight, it’s tough to picture the Raptors moving on.
Blake: Better home team oddity: Rihana’s nipple, Drake’s lint roller or Rob Ford’s being Rob Ford?
Devin: Drake’s lint roller. You have expectations for all three of them, but nobody exceeds them like your multi-platinum rap star lint rolling his pants in plain view by millions. That’s a level I still can’t comprehend.
Blake: Both teams have shot terribly from long range in this series. The Raptors have made work on the offensive glass. The Nets have forced insane numbers of turnovers. Neither team, nor the officiating crews, have had a particularly impressive 48-minute performance. Which team “needs” to reach their potential more?
Devin: The Raptors. The Nets have so many guys who can create their own shot and have been a top option before, as well as a few ultimate role players (namely, Livingston and Kirilenko). Even when things fall apart, they can just fall back on their instincts. Each game has come down to a few shots at the end, and the Nets closed out twice and got open shots that rimmed out in the loss.
Devin: I asked you earlier to tell me about a Raptors player the Nets should watch that wouldn’t show up on Game 1 of a scouting report. Did you intentionally leave off Patrick Patterson so the Nets wouldn’t think to guard him?
Blake: It wasn’t intentional, I swear. He’s playing out of his mind right now and while he’s had really hot stretches before, he entered the playoffs in a pretty serious nine-game slump (6.6 points, 39.7 percent shooting, 33.3 percent on threes). He’s that dude right now. Now if only he could check Joe Johnson…
Outsider Interlude with Andrew Unterberger of theScore, The 700 Level, etc.:
Perhaps we shouldn’t have fanned the flames of Seven-Time All-Star Joe Johnson as we have. Against all odds, STAJJ has outperformed the Raps’ breakout backcourt in this series, particularly controversial snub Kyle Lowry, whose showing has been pretty disappointing against the size of the Nets’ versatile guards. The games have been pretty close considering, but when it’s hard to tell who besides Patrick Patterson (!!) can be counted on for the Raps in crunch time, it’s hard to feel very confident in the Raps’ chances this series. If they do prove to be a year away still, I just hope the Raps can die on their feet–i.e., by not giving John Salmons any more f—ing playing time. Show some pride, Toronto.
Blake: Has you prediction for this series’ ultimate result changed? Why/why not?
Devin: Nope, but my prediction was a bit wonky. I think the Nets will return home in Game 6 up 3-2. If they win Game 6, series over. But if they lose Game 6, I think they also lose Game 7.
Devin: Has your prediction changes?
Blake: Stubbornly, no. I thought they’d split in Toronto, split in Brooklyn, and then the home team would win out, meaning Raptors in 7. The Nets have been slightly better so far, but I think there are enough ways the Raptors can still improve their game that they can take three of these last four, starting tonight.