More and more, though, this series seems to be confirming that the regular season was very revealing about the true nature of these teams. From Jan. 1 until the end of the regular season, the Nets had the second-best point differential per 100 possessions in third quarters. They have scored 23 more points than the Raptors have scored in this series’ third quarters. Since the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors had the best point differential per 100 possessions in fourth quarters. They have scored 20 more points than the Nets in this series’ fourth quarters. Casey could not pin down exactly why that is — there is a confluence of reasons and just plain randomness that result in succeeding at one time versus the other — but both teams have been repeating patterns that were established in the regular season. The details have changed, but they are behaving like themselves.
Nets: A terrible way to end Game 4, a loss that sparked so many questions, from decision-making to coaching and the team’s overall resolve … Brooklyn relies on its perimeter game, unselfish habits and defence, but they all disappeared in the fourth quarter Sunday night … Quick start featuring decisive moves, defence and rebounding must be accomplished in Game 5 or Nets face the real possibility of returning home facing elimination … Unless Brooklyn does a complete makeover, which isn’t going to happen, it must rely on what took the team this far: Defence, sharing the basketball and making shots.
The good news for the Raptors, is Pierce and Garnett aren’t the players they once were. The bad news is, they were awesome in these situations in the past. Pierce has played in 11 previous fifth games, averaging 22.3 points per game on 50.8% from the field, according to Larry Fleisher, of netsdaily.com, who looked into the numbers Tuesday. Oh yeah, the Celtics went 9-2 in those 11 contests with Pierce leading the charge, according to Fleisher. Meanwhile, Garnett struggled in his first Game 5 as a skinny 21-year-old, but has been stellar since in those situations, averaging 21.2 points per game on 51.9% shooting, winning six-of-eight games overall. Fellow Brooklyn stars Joe Johnson and Deron Williams can’t match the playoff history of Pierce or Garnett. Johnson has gone 1-4 in the fifth game of series where his team came in tied 2-2. Johnson’s shot just 39% in those contests. Williams has only played in two such games, shooting a dismal 4-for-16 in a loss and going for 29 points in a second defeat a year later.
“Just because we’re home, [it] doesn’t remedy anything,” cautioned coach Dwane Casey after a Tuesday afternoon practice session. “The other night, we were down 2-1, our backs were against the wall [and] we came out appropriately. That’s the same approach we’ve got to have [Wednesday] night.” “It’s not going to be all smiles and bubblegum and fruitcakes [Wednesday] night. It’s going to be a street fight, and that’s the way we’ve got to come out, with that mentality.”
“I don’t think we’re as wide-eyed and bushy-tailed as the way we were in Game 1,” is how Casey put it on Tuesday following a short practice. “If you’re at this point of the season and you don’t understand after you’ve been told, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a street fight,’ and you’re not ready, it’s a little late. They should know right now (Game 5) is going to be a street fight. They’ve been told. We showed them.”
When two of the league’s better defensive teams locked in for battle, you knew it would be a grind at times in terms of scoring. But this? Of the 16 current NBA playoff teams, (including the recently eliminated Bobcats), the Nets and Raptors rank 14th and 15th respectively in terms of field goals made. Only the Atlanta Hawks have fewer, but that’s been supplanted by the fact that they’re making 11.8 three-pointers per contest, by far the highest mark of the playoff clubs. No matter the offensive metric in fact, the Raps and Nets rank at, or near the very bottom of the playoff ladder. And it’s not just any-old shot that both teams are missing on. It’s open ones too. As detailed yesterday by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, both clubs shot solid percentages on open jump shots during the regular season but in the playoffs, not so much…
“We’re going to be us regardless. If we have them or not, that’s just our mindset,” said DeMar DeRozan. “We’ve been counted out for so long, so, hey, we got the underdog mindset. I don’t think that’s going to go anywhere (no matter how many new fans come on board).” “We have great fans here in Canada. That’s pretty much all that matters,” said Amir Johnson. “Either love us or hate us, we’re just going to keep on playing hard and keep on proving (to) everybody that we deserve to win.” The attention is good for the franchise overall, but the best thing anyone can do to encourage the Raptors is call the team an underdog, one that should be on the outside of the playoffs looking in — the way things usually go around these parts.
Here we are, though, as the Nets have lost home court advantage and have yet, really, to put together a complete ball game. They are shooting 25 percent from the three-point line, and have been out-rebounded by an average nine boards through the first four games. While they could have been up 3-1 in the series, at the same time you can say the Nets are lucky to even be in the position they are in now with some of the poor effort numbers. Brooklyn is in a precarious position. When the series is tied at two games apiece, the home team is 111-41 in game five. Even further, the home team has won the series 118 times and lost the series only 34 times. The Raptors have been beaten up this series, with the likes of Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, and Landry Fields all battling respective injuries, yet the Nets haven’t been able to attack and dominate this series.
Can @Raptors Kyle Lowry pitch for the @BlueJays too?
“The spotlight should not be about him in any way whatsoever,” Casey said. “Has he struggled a couple games? Yes. But the reason why we win or lose is not because of what Terrence Ross did or didn’t do. In that win (Sunday), he did a lot of good things and set the tone defensively. Somehow, because he doesn’t score a bunch of points, people don’t think he played well. That’s what we’ve got to look at too. Let’s look at the defensive focus he had in the minutes he was in there. If we get the other points, that’s gravy.” Casey and his coaching staff still believe Ross is going to have one of those games where he gets in a zone and scores a boatload of points, but the fact that he has not produced one of those game yet has not been a surprise. Ross has always been a guy who has needed time to adjust to a new setting or a new level. He did so in college, and did so again in the pros and now he’s doing it at the playoff level in the pros.
After tying up their opening-round series in Brooklyn, the Raptors have an opportunity to do something they haven’t done in nearly 13 years. Toronto hasn’t led a playoff series since 2001 and has been fighting an uphill battle with the Nets from the moment Game 1 tipped off last weekend. Now, with home-court advantage on their side once again, can they finally take control and impose their will on the Nets? TSN 1050’s Josh Lewenberg and Duane Watson preview Wednesday’s Game 5 in another playoff edition of the Raptors Report podcast.
The Johnson-Pierce matchup has been one of the most intriguing in the series; the difference in size, skill and experience has been enthralling to watch. Pierce is the crafty veteran playing power forward in an unconventional Brooklyn lineup; Johnson is the somewhat raw big man trying to guard someone smaller with skills that don’t allow for Pierce to be an easy cover. Johnson, and his teammates, admit the Raptors big man has spent too much time worrying about what Pierce can do to exploit him rather than figuring out ways to exploit the slower, smaller Pierce. “It’s just tough guarding Paul Pierce at the four. Just try to show him different looks on defence and on offence just being more aggressive,” said Johnson. “I just have to keep it consistent. “I’m so worried about Paul Pierce and the position sometimes it kind of takes me out of other plays on offence or I sit back on offence and let other guys set screens.”
”They’re a competitive group,” Pierce said of Toronto’s strength down the stretch. ”We’ve seen that all season long, how well they play, getting 48 wins, how well they play in the fourth quarter, so many comeback wins. We understand that this is a group that’s not going to back down. They’re not going to give up. They’re earning a lot of people’s respect around the league.” Toronto, whose late rally fell just short in Game 3, controlled the fourth quarters of both games in Brooklyn, while the Nets made several mistakes. The Raptors also outscored Brooklyn 32-20 in the fourth quarter of their Game 2 win, so it seems postseason inexperience isn’t a serious factor in clutch time. Plus, as Pierce noted, by now these Raptors aren’t really playoff rookies anymore. ”Just because you don’t have a lot of playoff experience doesn’t mean you’re not a good team,” Pierce said. ”You can learn on the fly. Once you go through a series, you get three or four games under your belt, hey, you’ve got experience. I remember my first playoff game. Once I played a couple of games, I was comfortable. It was like ‘OK, this is the playoffs? Let’s play.’ That’s what you’re seeing with them.”
Heading into a crucial Game 5 on Wednesday night, Greivis Vasquez thinks his team still hasn’t played their best basketball through four games and said the Raptors are ready to leave everything on the floor in Game 5. Vasquez joined TSN 1050 on Tuesday to talk about Toronto’s mindset and also weighed in on Adam Silver’s decision to ban Donald Sterling for life, saying the team stands by the commissioner’s decision and plans to offer a show of support prior to tipoff.
Yet by most accounts, the reaction in Brooklyn to the Nets’ playoff drive has been a yawn. In Toronto, TV audiences are at record highs and the fans are coming out in droves, filling the Air Canada Centre and Maple Leaf Square in the cold and rain. And more and more borderline fans are jumping on the bandwagon. Raptors talk is all over the radio and on TV. People are talking hoops. The enthusiasm has been amazing. Meanwhile, in the New York papers, you can’t find a Nets story without a dowsing rod. In this series, the Nets have generally been buried beneath stories about the Knicks, who didn’t even make the playoffs, as well as the Yankees, Mets … even the Rangers. There are suggestions that the lack of support for the NBA’s Brooklyn team is because the franchise is new and it will take some time for fan loyalty to build. New York, however, is and will always be a Knicks town. Still, I find the indifference toward the Nets kind of sad for the players.
Thousands of people jammed the outdoor space by the ACC, following along as the Raptors dropped a heartbreaker in Game 3 in Brooklyn and again, as the team pulled out another thriller in Sunday’s Game 4. They were loud, roaring throughout the fourth quarter, and were proud of being Raptors fans. “I’ve seen pictures on Instagram and everything. I think it’s dope. It means a lot, it’s not going overlooked,” said all-star guard DeMar DeRozan. “Unbelievable, man. They said they had, like, 10,000 people out there,” said Raptors big man Amir Johnson, embellishing a bit, since the actual number gathered was believed to be closer to 5,000 people. However high the actual number might have been, Johnson was impressed. “I think our crowd, like (expletive) — excuse my language — killed Brooklyn’s crowd,” said a smiling Johnson.
The Nets are a bad rebounding team, so it’s not much of a shocker that Toronto is winning the battle of the boards through the first four games of this series. The Raptors have grabbed 175 rebounds so far compared to the Nets’ 139. It’s pointless to hope the Nets will suddenly metamorphose into a team capable of dominating the glass overnight. The team that finished 29th in rebound rate during the regular season won’t redefine its interior presence in the playoffs, unless Charles Barkley flees the TNT halftime studio and starts snatching boards for the Nets like its 1987. However, more subtle adjustments can be made, notably on the defensive end. The Raptors have gotten too many second-chance opportunities on offense that have allowed them to hang around in contests. In Game 2, which Brooklyn would lose by a mere five points, Toronto picked up 19 offensive rebounds.
“They’re in the wheelhouse right now,” Bosh said of the Raptors. “They’ve got two games at home in a best-of-3 series, but, with that said, there are a bunch of savvy veterans out there in Brooklyn, and they have yet to play their best basketball. “With their backs against the wall, we’ll see how they react. They’re going to have to win a game in Toronto. Game 5 will be a huge one, so we’ll be in front of the TV watching and just waiting.”
The Raptors have shot equally poorly from behind the arc in the series — 27.3 percent (23-for-88). “Everybody is guarding each other and the 3-point shot,” Kevin Garnett said. “Obviously 3s hurt you as you saw in the Pacers game, so we are trying to defend it and they are defending us. So it is all about who gets them off and is able to create opportunity for the next guy, but more importantly staying aggressive.” • Alan Anderson missed Tuesday’s practice with a sore groin, but Nets coach Jason Kidd doesn’t expect him to miss Game 5.