By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
NEW YORK – It’s been said that there’s no momentum in the playoffs, that every game has its own identity. In fact, Raptors coach Dwane Casey preached that very mantra earlier in this series.
But what other way would you explain the Brooklyn Nets’ first-half offense in Game 6? After scoring 69 points in the second half of Game 5 on Wednesday – erasing a 26-point deficit along the way – the Nets blitzed the Raptors for 60 points in the first 24 minutes on Friday.
Over four quarters, they scored at a rate of 140 points per 100 possessions, which is quite ridiculous. And after building a 26-point lead of their own in the third period, they never let the Raptors get within single digits, forcing a Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday with a 97-83 victory.
Casey had no choice but to agree that the Nets started this game like they finished the last one, but held his stance in regard to what might happen in Game 7.
“I still say every game is different,” Casey said. “Sunday’s game will be different. It’ll be something else we talk about.”
Casey had better hope so, because over the last 60 minutes of basketball, his team has been outscored 141-105 and the Nets have found a lineup, a point guard, a pace, and a defensive mentality that works for them.
After Alan Anderson played a role in Brooklyn’s comeback on Wednesday, he got the start in place of Shaun Livingston on Friday. The change gave the Nets more spacing offensively and allowed their primary ball-handlers more opportunities to attack the paint.
“It was more of a feeling among the coaching staff,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said, “the way that [Anderson] played for us in that fourth quarter up in Toronto, to see if he could carry that over. And he definitely picked up where he was in Toronto.”
So did Deron Williams. The Nets’ point guard has been maligned in the press (and outside Barclays Center) in this series, but also played a role in that comeback on Wednesday, picking up his aggressiveness and scoring eight points in the fourth quarter.
Williams pushed the pace late in Game 5, because he had no other choice with his team in such a hole. In Game 6, he looked to run early and often, attacking the Toronto defense before it could get set.
“When we can get some stops and get the ball out in transition,” Williams said, “I definitely think it suits my style of play. But I think it helps our offense when they can’t set up their defense. We move the ball really well.”
“They played faster,” Casey added. “They got us on our heels early.”
And they got into the paint. The Nets got 24 (their high for the series) of their 36 field goals in the paint, with Joe Johnson continuing to beat the Raptors up in the post and the Nets’ bigs benefiting from the guards’ penetration.
But as Williams noted, it started with stops. The Nets played their best defense of the series, holding the Raptors to just 83 points on 92 possessions.
While Brooklyn got into its offense early, Toronto got into its offense late. The Nets shut down their early actions and forced them to improvise with little time left on the shot clock. They continued to pressure Toronto’s guards out high on pick-and-rolls, but also did a better job of meeting the roll man before he could get to the basket.
Most of the Raptors’ first quarter offense was DeMar DeRozan hitting some very tough shots, a trend that just couldn’t be sustained. Kyle Lowry never got going, shooting just 4-for-16 after a brilliant performance in Game 5.
“They did a good job,” Casey said, “of trapping him, blitzing him, and getting him out of his rhythm.”
“Desperate basketball,” Kevin Garnett called it. “We had our backs to the wall at home, but there was no way in hell they were going to come here and get a win today.”
Now comes Game 7, with the Nets hoping things continue to go the same way and the Raptors hoping Casey is right.