It’s game seven. Cue up Sirius by the Allan Parsons Project. All the familiar sports clichés apply: this one’s for all the marbles, the season is on the line, do or die; you get the idea. The real story for this game is just how crazy close this entire series has been, and what that means for what we’re going to see today.
The overall point differential for the entire series is only +4 for Brooklyn. The difference between the two teams has come down to 0.04 points per possession. That’s a razor thin margin of difference, working out to less than a point a game. Brooklyn has been the tiniest bit better overall, but not so much as to warrant them being favored coming into the game. Six games into this matchup, each team knows what it needs to do against the other in order to win.
The Raptors are scoring very efficiently in the pick and roll and cutting to the basket. When they run plays, they score well. Their offence has been at it’s worst when running out of isolation, which is an instance where the numbers back up the eye test. Brooklyn is double-teaming hard or trapping on the perimeter the second they sniff out isolation plays, DeMar off screen hand offs or even slow moving pick and rolls towards the middle of the court. It’s been reasonably effective. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have felt like absolute heroes at times in this series, but Brooklyn is winning those one-on-five battles overall. On the other hand, whenever the Raptors run action that frees up movement to the basket they’re scoring well. They’re eating up the Nets off of pick and rolls, cuts, post-ups and hand offs. Basically, if the Raptors offense makes a way for a player to get to the basket, they’re scoring over a point per possession. The Nets have struggled mightily to guard the rim and they’re fouling a lot. The only problem is that much the same is true of the Raptors. This series has been much tighter than the wildly swinging scores of the last two games have insinuated.
The Raptors defensive system and personnel were top 10 in spot-up shooting, transition and the pick-and-roll during the season. They were average against post-ups and bad against isolation. Their spot-up shooting defense has held up in the series, despite Brooklyn’s 3-point prowess and the number of wide-open 3s it feels like Brooklyn’s drive-and-kick ball movement has generated. What’s killing them is the pick and roll. Brooklyn hasn’t been knocking down the majority of their good shots that their ball movement and the Raptors scrambling has created, but they have gotten a bevy of easy baskets in the last 5 quarters of play by exercising pick and rolls out of that movement once they have the Raptors big men in motion.
For those of you calling for Fields over Salmons, I agree in principle. But Salmons isn’t getting the minutes because of some unspoken grudge Casey has towards Fields. It’s because of the injury Fields took falling hard on his tailbone and back in game 3. He was still suffering from back spasms in game 6 and his availability is unclear.
The Nets have sparked their offence by spreading out the floor by taking Kirilenko and Livingston, two non-shooters, largely out of the rotation with the starters in favor of Alan Anderson. The spacing that Coach Jason Kidd has opted for in these small ball lineups hasn’t unlocked their 3 point shooting in the same way it did for the Knicks teams that Jason Kidd ended his career playing for, but it has made for a world of space in the middle. They’ve been better spotting-up, but it’s these lineups that are killing the Raptors by getting to the basket and getting to the free throw line in the process.
A surprise source of points for Brooklyn in the last few games has come from baskets out of transition. The Nets are getting more transition buckets in this series than they did during the season. So much for old, slow legs. The Raptors are scoring much more efficiently out of transition than Brooklyn (1.12 vs. 0.97 points per possession), but they’re doing it much less often. It’s not for a lack of trying, the Raptors are scoring more than they normally do in transition as well, but Brooklyn is bleeding them badly off of turnovers.
Turnovers are the key stat to this series, in my opinion. When two teams are this crazy close in terms of execution (0.96 vs. 0.92 points per possession), the game is either going to come down to a coin flip outcome of who hits the last shot, or more importantly, which team is able to generate those extra couple of possessions. Whether it’s through steals, pressure, drawing offensive fouls or grabbing offensive rebounds, those extra few possessions could mean the difference between spending next week in Miami or the Bahamas. The team that has won the turnovers + offensive rebounding battle has won every game in this series except for game two, where it was too close to matter either way. Brooklyn has generated five extra possessions over the Raptors over six games between Raptors turnovers and Nets offensive rebounding. Those five possessions perfectly account for the four points Brooklyn is up by overall. If Toronto is going to win, they’re going to need to control their turnovers and control the glass.
Stand up and cheer Toronto. Say your prayers, reverse jinxes, incantations and make the appropriate offerings to the Sports Gods. Do nothing to tempt fate. Wear any and all articles of clothing that invite positive outcomes. Show no hubris, for the Sports Gods are the most angry and spiteful of all the Gods. Just ask Cleveland. For that matter, just ask James Reimer. So do whatever it is you think you have to do to appease them. It’s game freaking seven!