By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
VIDEO: Nets-Heat: Game 4 Preview
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — The Brooklyn Nets got one. They need one more.
If the the conference semifinals series between the Nets and Miami Heat is to get interesting, the Nets need to follow up their Game 3 win with another in Game 4 on Monday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).
But they can’t count on hitting 15 3-pointers again. Though the Nets did a good job of finding open spots against the Miami defense on Saturday, only once this season have they shot 50 percent from 3-point range in two straight games, and that was against two bottom-five defenses (Detroit and Philadelphia).
The Nets can still make the most of their offensive possessions by pushing the ball up the floor and making quick passes against Miami’s overloading D. And they can give themselves a real chance to win by continuing to keep LeBron James out of the paint.
Early on Saturday, James looked like he was going to have a huge game. He had 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the first quarter, tearing through the Nets for layups on three fast breaks and draining three of his four jumpers.
But Brooklyn made sure there were more jumpers than layups after that. James got to the basket only one time in the final three quarters, and that was when the Nets had a 19-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
After attempting 29 shots in the restricted area in Game 1, the Heat attempted just 18 in Game 2. In Game 3, they got just 13, a number that matched their season low and ranked as the third fewest they’ve ever had in their 74 postseason games since James arrived in 2010.
The Heat won all of the other four games in which they failed to get to the basket at least 15 times, mostly because James shot well from outside the paint. See Game 6 vs. Boston in 2012 or Game 7 vs. San Antonio last year.
But if you’re the opponent, choosing layups vs. jumpers is an easy decision. James is the best finisher in the game and you just have to take your chances with him on the perimeter. So the Nets will continue to show James multiple bodies, when he has the ball on the perimeter …
… or in the post …
“I think we’re doing a better job with our help defense,” Paul Pierce said Sunday of the Heat’s declining attempts at the rim. “We did a better job of helping one another on the drives and getting back on defense and limiting them in these opportunities.”
James is a willing passer and the attention on him will get his teammates some open looks. But they’d be more open if James got into the paint first.
He can get there more often if the Heat execute better offensively and keep moving.
“They pack the paint, they’re able to switch out, they’re able to contain a lot of our ball-handlers,” James said Sunday. “It flattens our offense out a lot. We haven’t had the assist rate that we want in this series so far. We have to do a better job of screening, getting guys open, and moving ourselves more than the ball.”
The Nets had a big offensive game on Saturday, but their scoring was tied to their defense. As they built that 19-point lead, they were holding the Heat to just 11 points over a stretch of 17 possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters. More stops mean more early-offense opportunities for Brooklyn.
The Heat haven’t lost two straight playoff games since the 2012 conference finals. But the Brooklyn defense has been much better at home in these playoffs (allowing 99.7 points per 100 possessions) than it has been on the road (112.8).
Another win in Game 4 will put some pressure on the champs.