By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
VIDEO: Joe Drops 30
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Game 6 on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in the first round series between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets will be determined by a nail. The nail, actually.
“The nail” is the term used to describe the middle of the foul line. And it’s the location from which the two teams generated a lot of their 228 points in Game 5 on Wednesday.
After a relatively quiet, seven-point, seven-shot performance in Game 4, Joe Johnson came back with 30 points on 13-for-23 shooting in Game 5. He almost single-handedly got the Nets back in the game after they went down by 26, scoring 26 of his 30 in the second half.
In Game 4, the Raptors did their best to get the ball out of Johnson’s hands when he got it in the low post. In Game 5, the Nets got him the ball away from the low post, where it was harder for Toronto to send a double-team.
Most of Johnson’s catches came at the nail, with a pair of teammates on either side of the floor…
Here, Johnson is one or two dribbles away from getting to his floater, which he can shoot over any Raptor that has tried to defend him in this series. He’s 19-for-31 from the area of the paint outside the charge circle.
But if Toronto sends a double-team here, one of his teammates has an open shot or lane to the basket. And since he’s in the middle of the floor, every pass is a simple one.
On the play pictured above, Johnson took John Salmons into the paint and scored over him easily, with Chuck Hayes getting there too late to do anything about it.
The Nets still went to Johnson in the post at times on Wednesday, and he had some success there. But those post-ups mostly drew double-teams…
Johnson did most of his damage from the middle of the floor, even when his catch at the nail wasn’t clean.
The Nets got him at the nail with a pin-down screen from the center, which kept Toronto from being able to switch the screen and deny the catch. Here’s Andray Blatche, screening DeMar DeRozan at the weak-side block and allowing Johnson to catch and go straight to the basket for an and-one…
If the Raptors sunk into the paint to stop him, Johnson was able to find open teammates on the perimeter.
Johnson played just 14:31 in the first half of Game 5, picking up his second foul midway through the first quarter and his third midway through second. He played the entire second half (save one defensive possession) and still logged more than 38 minutes total.
Brooklyn scored 101 points on the 72 offensive possessions in which he was on the floor, an incredible rate of 140 points per 100 possessions. They scored 12 on 20 possessions (60 per 100) with him on the bench.
Of course, the other end of the floor was Brooklyn’s problem on Wednesday. And it was a problem mostly when the Raptors got the ball in the middle of the floor.
Here’s DeRozan isolating on Shaun Livingston from a spot that’s hard to double-team, a play that resulted in a layup for Jonas Valanciunas…
Here’s DeRozan getting around Mason Plumlee‘s hedge on a side pick-and-roll with Amir Johnson and getting to the middle of the floor, a play that resulted in a layup for Johnson…
And here’s Johnson catching the ball at the nail on a pick-and-roll with Kyle Lowry, a play that resulted in another layup for Valanciunas (plus a foul on Paul Pierce).
Both teams got what they wanted offensively in Game 5. And the team that wins Game 6 will likely be the one that keeps their opponent away from the nail.