By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com
VIDEO: Nets-Heat Game 5 preview
NEW YORK — It was almost two weeks ago that the Brooklyn Nets found themselves on the brink of playoff elimination. Down three games to two in the first round, the Nets won in Brooklyn and managed to force a deciding Game 7 back in Toronto, which they won.
Wednesday in Miami, the Nets will once again stare elimination in the face. This time, however, elimination has LeBron James on its team. Winning two in a row against Toronto was no small feat, but winning three in a row against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat presents Brooklyn with its toughest test yet.
“It’s Game 5. We understand what’s at stake,” Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd said on Tuesday morning. “It’s Game 7 for us now — we lose, it’s over; we win, we fight another day. So we just focus on one quarter at a time. We understand the emotion of the game, so we understand what’s at stake. But the big thing is, execute our game plan and give ourselves an opportunity to win.”
Despite giving up 49 points to James in Game 4 in Brooklyn on Monday night, the Nets had every opportunity to win. The score was tied at 94 with 2:30 to play, but the Heat outscored the Nets 8-2 down the stretch. That failure to score was partly due to the Nets’ offense bogging down into too many isolation sets — they ran several for Joe Johnson — instead of moving the ball and finding open players.
“You know, it’s tough to just give one guy the ball and say, ‘Bail us out'” Nets guard Shaun Livingston said following Game 3. “They gave Bron the ball, but you see they had some movement, they ran some plays. I think that’s what we have to be better at as a whole.”
Poor shooting wasn’t only a fourth-quarter problem for the Nets in Game 4. After shooting 15-of-25 from behind the 3-point arc in Game 3, the Nets went just 5-of-22 in Game 4.
“We had some good looks,” said Kidd. “We knew coming in they were going to run us off the three, and we probably took a couple of bad threes. But overall we’ve got to attack, we’ve got to take twos. There’s nothing wrong with taking twos.”
Defensively, stopping (or at least slowing down) James will remain the primary theme. After scoring 16 in the first quarter of Game 3, the Nets held James to a combined 12 the rest of the way. In Game 4, though, James seemed to be putting on a tribute to the offense used in Cleveland under recently fired Mike Brown. He dominated the ball, lowered his head and drove to the rim again and again, finishing 11-for-12 in the restricted area.
“You can’t allow a player like that to constantly get in the paint all night,” said Paul Pierce, who announced he would be willing to take on the challenge of defending James, then picked up two fouls early in Game 4 and spent the rest of the night trying to avoid foul trouble. “He did a good job shrinking the court and getting one-on-one opportunities.”
If the Nets were looking for a silver lining, while James was pouring in buckets, he wasn’t able to consistently involve his teammates. With James taking on so much of the scoring load, the crisp, quick passing that makes the Heat so dangerous basically came to a halt.
“One guy obviously can score a lot of points, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s hurting you,” Kevin Garnett said. “Where they are deadly is when Ray [Allen] has 13 to 16, [Chris] Bosh has 16 to 20, [Shane] Battier has 9 to 10, and so on and so on. That’s hard. But when you can lock into one guy and kind of steer and understand where things are coming from, it’s kind of pretty much controllable. Where they hurt you is with ball movement and the other guys hitting shots.”
With the do-or-die Game 5 in mind, the Nets seem clear on what adjustments need to be made. Now it’s just an issue of actually implementing them. After a summer of high-profile moves designed the make the Nets a genuine championship contender, they currently stand one loss away from a second-round exit.
“It’s an uphill battle,” said Livingston. “We’ve been in a war, been in a fight, so we just have to stay confident and go steal one.”
“Shoulda coulda woulda doesn’t help us at this point,” said Garnett. “We’ll take this a game at a time.”