First of all, speaking as a basketball fan primarily – how great have these playoffs been? With every night of games and every matchup, I’ve yet to be disappointed. Well, other than Chicago’s attempt at what it calls ‘offense’ but I’ve grown numb to that failure in motion. Anyway, Toronto and Brooklyn has been pretty awesome, eh? The young Raptors who don’t know any better just keep persisting, and the veteran Nets aren’t going down without a fight.
In a series all square at 2-2, it’s now a best of three. Home court has been restored for Toronto, and the Air Canada Center will be absolutely bananas for game five, but Brooklyn is not the type of team to be phased at the prospect of playing on the road. They’re too seasoned. After watching this weekend in Brooklyn, I get the feeling that I’m watching two teams that both believe whole-heartedly that their specific style of play will ultimately prevail.
To me, that’s what’s been so fun about this series in particular. It hasn’t been a game of chess between the coaches, a tactical display of out-smarting the opponent. Instead, where tinkering and adjustments are called-for, they’ve been made – but for the most part both Jason Kidd and Dwane Casey have stuck to their guns. They’ve committed to their team’s strengths, and now it’s ride or die and I love it.
From Brooklyn’s end, they’ve succeeded by recognizing who they are – a small-ball team. It took the loss of their best player in center Brook Lopez to come to the realization, which is a strange quandary. But it’s true, once Lopez, who is Brooklyn’s most dominate player went down, the Nets shifted their attack to utilizing their balanced perimeter scorers. And during this series, even with Jonas Valanciunas beautifully commanding the glass, Brooklyn is unwavered.
The Nets knew that if Deron Williams reverted back to playing like the perennial All-Star he is, that they’d be able to sustain weaknesses in rebounding and an interior presence. The sacrifice makes sense; because Jason Kidd knew he couldn’t manufacture a big, but he could count on the possibility that his point guard resurrected himself and became the x-factor. Plus, the lack of a post player who demands touches like Lopez does creates an abundance of space for Williams to work with every single possession. While Brooklyn would obviously love to have Lopez for this series, they gained an identity through his loss, and that small-ball identity is who they are comfortable being.
For Toronto, it’s always been about the defense. With a defensive-minded head coach, it’s always going to be about the defense. For both teams, this whole series has come down to missing the open opportunities. Both units have shown able and playoff-caliber defense throughout the course of the series, and it was Toronto’s timely defense down the stretch of game four that allowed them to come away with the victory.
At times during Toronto’s weekend in Brooklyn, Dwane Casey threw out some questionable lineup combinations, but I wouldn’t call playing Chuck Hayes or Steve Novak a panic in strategy. Casey tried something different, it didn’t quite work, but it didn’t do any real damage regardless.
Casey’s gotten nothing from Terrence Ross the entire series; Greivis Vasquez’s constant play making deserves minutes. The true difference in the series is Amir Johnson for Toronto; his defensive contributions are a must. I can’t put a real label on what Johnson means to Toronto, even statistically nothing sticks out to show the difference that Johnson does make. It’s hard to explain but just know that if Johnson plays well, Toronto probably wins.
Neither team has shot even serviceably good this series, and that bodes well for Toronto if that trend continues. I have no reason to believe game five won’t be another grind-it-out type of game filled with runs and responses. Watching these first four games, it’ll be the team who can throw the last big punch that’ll win game five.