Posts Tagged ‘Joe Johnson’

Allen shows he still got game

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com

VIDEO: Ray Allen sparks Miami to a 2-0 lead over Brooklyn

MIAMI Chris Bosh stepped out of the Miami Heat shower room and stopped short with one glance at the crowd of media assembling in front of one locker. It wasn’t the stall of LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or even Bosh himself, the cogs of Miami’s big three. On this night, after the Miami Heat beat the Brooklyn Nets 94-82 to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the player the assembled media couldn’t wait to hear from was… Ray Allen? “

Damn, Ray!” said Bosh, in mock amazement. We can safely assume Bosh was putting on a bit, because Allen’s contributions were obvious. Coming off the bench, Allen logged 28 minutes and scored 13 points, including shooting 3-for-5 on 3-pointers. He also finished with eight rebounds, good enough to lead the Heat in the category, including a crucial offensive rebound to prolong a possession and basically seal the game. Add that to Allen’s 19 points in Game 1, and it’s safe to say Allen has been one of Miami’s biggest performers in the Conference semifinals.

“A veteran guy who has been in these moments — he had a sense for it, a feel for it, what we needed,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. A bit more succinctly, Wade noted: “Ray does what Ray do.” “You have to read situations, and you have to be patient and let the game develop,” Allen explained. “For me, I just move around, and defensively, try to have an impact and create offense from there. On the offensive end I try not to stand. My guy is watching me, he doesn’t want to leave me, so I just keep moving and you get the easy one.”

Allen’s endurance gave him the motor to keep moving throughout the game. But what was it that made Allen so elusive along the baseline and allowed him to grab so many boards throughout the night? “Because I’m elusive,” he joked. “You’re watching LeBron and D-Wade so much when they’re driving to the basket. I had an opportunity to get behind the defense, when I get the offensive rebounds.

“Then defensively, really I’m the low guy under the basket the majority of the time. The way their offense is set up, I’m the guy that’s down there, so I have to make sure that nobody crashes. They got a lot of second-chance opportunities tonight that we have to clean up for next game, but it was my night to get those rebounds.”

While Allen’s terrific shooting touch is well documented — Nets coach Jason Kidd said after that game that Allen should be considered “one of the best shooters of all-time” — it was an offensive rebound with 3:07 left that might have been Allen’s biggest contribution. The Nets had cut Miami’s lead to 87-79, with 3:39 left in the game. The Heat ended up getting the ball to LeBron for an emergency three-pointer as the shot clock was running down.

“Bron, I knew he was going to have to get up a 9-1-1 shot,” Allen recalled. “And everybody was watching him. And you figure, ‘Hey, he’s not gonna make that,’ if you’re on the other team. But I said, ‘Hey, let me get under the basket and try and make something happen.’ A lot of times I run, and I was just fortunate it fell in my hands. If I was taller I would have dunked it back in.”

Allen did not, however, dunk it back in, and instead the Heat re-set for another possession. After two more James misses and two more Heat offensive rebounds (these by Wade and Bosh), James finally got a lay-up after slipping a screen-roll with Wade with 1:09 left to play. All told, the entire possession took 100 seconds, and the Heat went from an eight-point lead with 3:09 left to a 10-point lead with 1:59 to play, leaving the game effectively out of reach for Brooklyn.

“That was a killer,” said Nets guard Joe Johnson. “We couldn’t come up with the rebound. It was almost as if we didn’t have the energy or effort down the stretch. I thought we fought so hard to stay within reach, to stay within the game. Those last few possessions killed us.”

Looking forward to Games 3 and 4 in Brooklyn, Allen pointed to getting off to faster starts and better finishes in each quarter as keys for the Heat. Although it’s probably worth noting that in franchise history, the Heat have held a 2-0 playoff series lead a dozen different times. They have gone on to win all twelve of those series.

The Heat’s deep bench has been terrific for them throughout the postseason, getting big performances from different players on an almost night-by-night basis. But through two games against Brooklyn, the 38-year-old Ray Allen has shown that he still got game.

“Ray’s amazing,” said Bosh. “He’s awesome. I want to be like him when I grow up.”

Following Game 1 loss, Nets look to get defensive

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: Recap of Game 1 and a lookahead to Game 2 between the Heat and Nets

MIAMI — After last night’s Game 1 loss at the hands of the Miami Heat, the general feeling in the Brooklyn Nets’ losing locker room was muted. Were they angry? Were they sad?

“Can’t be angry, can’t be frustrated,” said Andray Blatche. “It’s one game. It’s one game of seven.”

The Nets came into the series against the Heat having won all four regular season meetings, and surely they felt as though they were a team to be reckoned in Game 1.

The Heat apparently didn’t get the memo. The Nets were beaten in nearly every important statistical category — rebounds, assists, turnovers, points in the paint, attempts in the restricted area, and, of course, total points, as Miami won 107-86.

Twelve hours later, the Nets took the court at the American Airlines Arena for practice, and if there was one thing they agreed upon, it was that their defense needed a lift in Game 2 if they hoped to get back to their winning ways. Their offense? Sure, it wasn’t perfect, particularly the way they seemed fine with settling for jump shots. But as Deron Williams noted, their offense doesn’t matter if they can’t stop the Heat.

“Our defense wasn’t where it needed to be, that’s the first thing,” Williams said. “You can talk about the offense all you want, but defense is why we lost that game. A lot of mistakes. We need to play better offense, as well, but if we play defense like that we have no shot.”

The Nets need to complement an uptick in aggression with better defense positioning. The Heat seemed to be running layup lines throughout Game 1, getting to the rim at will.

“We have to protect the paint,” said coach Jason Kidd. “We gave up too many paint touches and too many layups. We have to make them a perimeter team and put pressure on them to shoot jump shots and not layups.”

As dominant as Miami was, the Nets were still in the game much of the way. Miami’s lead was just 3 with 8:39 to play in the third before the Heat went on an 18-5 run that broke the game open for good. And it wasn’t even that the Heat were getting and compiling paint appearances on fast breaks — they finished with just 4 fast break points. Miami’s success was fueled by ball movement and player movement, and the Nets just never matched their level of activity.

“We had too many lanes for them,” Blatche said. “We let them do pretty much what they wanted to do. Tomorrow we’ve got to step up to the challenge and be super aggressive on defense.”

“You can’t let the other guys around LeBron and Wade have 15, 17 points,” added Joe Johnson, referencing the performance of Miami players like Ray Allen (19 points), Chris Bosh (15) and Mario Chalmers (12). “To beat this team, you can’t allow that, you can’t have that.”

Being down in a playoff series is nothing knew to most of these Nets players, and not even to this Nets team — they were down 3-2 in the first round to the Toronto Raptors before winning the final two games and the series.

For a team that has been through as many high-profile situations as the Nets have over the past year, one loss does not end a season. Not yet, anyway.

“That’s why we have a Game 2,” Kidd said. “Another opportunity to go at it, and hopefully we can limit those mistakes.”

Desperation may yet make an appearance in this series. But if so, it’s not hanging around the Brooklyn Nets just yet.

Film Study: Heat beat Nets at the basket

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Best of Inside: Nets and Heat

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Jason Kidd made the right decision to rest most of his starters at the start of the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the conference semifinals. The Brooklyn Nets were down only 13 points, but there was no way they were winning that game.

First of all, the game — like the regular-season meetings between these two teams — was played at a very slow pace. So that 13-point deficit was much tougher to overcome than it would have been in a Western Conference game. Both teams finished the night with just 84 possessions (compared to about 100 apiece in Blazers-Spurs later on).

Secondly, given the shots each team was getting, there was little chance the Nets would get the consistent stops or consistent scores they needed to make it interesting. This game was layups on one end of the floor against contested jump shots on the other. And you could just see the blowout coming when the Nets weren’t able to turn that trend around after halftime.

It was just a three-point game at the half, but Miami had already attempted 15 shots in the restricted area. Brooklyn? Five. By the end of the third quarter, those numbers were 22 and seven. The Heat train was traveling downhill, and Brooklyn wasn’t stopping it. Miami scored 61 points on just 41 possessions in the second half, a ridiculous rate of 149 points per 100 possessions.

The Nets’ defensive issues started early. And there were lots of them.

There was Deron Williams getting caught in no-man’s land as LeBron James posted up …

20140507_chalmers_cut

… a play that resulted in an easy layup for Mario Chalmers, the guy Williams was defending.

There was Mirza Teletovic slow to help on a Chris Andersen roll to the basket…

20140507_andersen_roll

… a play that resulted in free throws for Birdman.

The Nets offered little resistance to James and Dwyane Wade in the low post. Results: A layup and the shortest of jump hooks.

They fell asleep in transition. They had some miscommunication in transition. And they got caught ball watching (Ball-you-man, Mirza).

Layup, layup, layup.

The Nets also didn’t know how to defend the James-as-a-screener plays. Chalmers got two more layups late in the second quarter (here and here) when Alan Anderson stayed attached to James, Williams trailed the play, and no one else came to help.

All of the above came in the first half, when the Heat scored just 46 points on 43 possessions. The second half, when they got going from 3-point range, was much worse for the Nets.

The Heat finished with 29 shots in the restricted area, which was only a tick above their average (28.8) in their four regular-season games against the Nets.

Brooklyn, meanwhile, got just 12 shots at the basket, down from an average of 21.5 in the four regular-season meetings. Defense is where the Heat can really flip the switch, as they did Tuesday.

In fact, Miami forced a 24-second violation on Brooklyn’s first possession, doing a nice job of helping and recovering. The Heat took away the Nets’ primary options, like Shane Battier denying Joe Johnson here …

20140507_battier_deny

… a play that resulted in another 24-second violation.

Their rotations were on point. They took away the paint and contested on the perimeter. In the end, these two facts spell out the difference between the Brooklyn offense in the first round and the Brooklyn offense on Tuesday …

  • Against Toronto, 28 percent of the Nets’ shots came from the restricted area. In Game 1 on Tuesday, that number was 17%.
  • Against Toronto, 64 percent of the Nets’ jump shots were uncontested, according to SportVU. In Game 1 on Tuesday, that number was 51 percent.

Now the Nets have to ask themselves if their defensive mistakes and lack of good shots were more about the Heat or more about their own energy level, coming off a grueling, seven-game series with the Raptors.

There’s certainly evidence that the latter played a part.

Go back to that first Chalmers/James pick-and-roll late in the second quarter. Brooklyn’s Anderson has to stay attached to James, but look at where the other defenders are when Chalmers comes off the screen.

20140507_chalmers_layup

You’d think they’d be able to prevent a layup there. They didn’t.

Offensively, the Nets were weak inside. Miami’s hedge-hard-and-deny defense produced some mismatches down low. But three times in the first half, Brooklyn’s bigs couldn’t score in the paint against Heat wings.

The Nets couldn’t finish. Their ball movement wasn’t very crisp. And some of those contested jumpers were a result of them settling.

On both ends of the floor, the Nets believe that they’ll play better with more energy and focus. But there are no two-day breaks in this round. In fact, because Game 7 in Toronto was a day game on Sunday, they’ve already had the longest break they’ll get before any game in this series.

24-Second thoughts — May 6

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant’s emotional MVP nod to his mother

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — What a day!

Kevin Durant wins his first KIA MVP, dethroning the two-time defending champion LeBron James just hours before his Heat hit the floor against the Brooklyn Nets in their eastern conference semifinal.

The Golden State Warriors sever ties with Mark Jackson after three seasons, firing him after three straight seasons that saw the Warriors finally claw their way into the consistent playoff mix in the Western Conference.

And the NBA announced that Los Angeles Clippers President Andy Roeser would take an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately.  “This will provide an opportunity for a new CEO to begin on a clean slate and for the team to stabilize under difficult circumstances,” NBA VP of Communications Mike Bass said in a statement released by the league.

We got all of this before Ray Allen showed up to America Airlines Arena for his early afternoon shooting workout, so you had to know it was going to be a wild night …

24 – Oh and before we get started, big ups to CJ Paul for his Happy Birthday shout out to his baby brother Chris Paul. #TaurusPower #brotherskeeper

23 – When you have two teams like Miami and Brooklyn, teams with, ahem, elder statesmen galore, you should expect the rotations to run deep for both Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Nets coach Jason Kidd

22 – Perhaps the most underrated story of the late regular season and the start of the playoffs is that Dwyane Wade seems to have gotten his old bones healthy enough to be, well, Dwyane Wade …

https://twitter.com/EthanJSkolnick/status/463825355862573057


VIDEO: Check out Kevin Durant accepting his KIA MVP award


21 – Magic Johnson playing agent for Mark Jackson, you know this has been an upside-down day …

20 – Joe Johnson and Deron Williams doing it like you’re supposed to on the road. The pace of this one is exactly what the Nets are looking for. And LeBron’s playing well but he’s not nearly as dominant as you’d like to see him if you’re a Heat fan. Very reminiscent of some of his previous battles against Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-led teams …

19 – Pacers big man Roy Hibbert should thank his lucky stars for teammates like Paul George and George Hill. They’re holding him down at a time when plenty of folks would run for the hills, if they had hills in Indianapolis. Do them a favor big fella and show up tomorrow night in Game 2 against the Wizards …

18 – I knew the pace of this game wasn’t going to be Clippers-Thunder, or anything close to it, but wow! Only one fast-break bucket in 24 minutes?

17 – Heat playing bully ball. LeBron getting whatever he wants in the paint. Shaun Livingston, as much as I love him and his comeback, is locked in an unfair fight.

16 – Did someone say Billy Knight?

15 – We need LeBron mic’d up more often …

14 – No more Birdman tonight. Right knee contusion. Heat will be fine without him. They’re rolling the Nets right now.

13 — This wasn’t a contest. The Heat were the far superior team. Rest worked just fine for the Heat. #NoRust And LeBron had an easy time of it, way too easy, if the Nets are going to make this series interesting. KG being held scoreless for the first time in 139 career playoff games … wow!


VIDEO: LeBron James keeps it classy after the Heat’s Game 1 rout of the Brooklyn Nets

12 – Spurs start 8-0 and remind us all that they’ve been doing this longer than half the Trail Blazers’ roster has been alive … not really, but it always feels that way when you see the Spurs schooling some upstart squad.

11 – Gone but not forgotten Dr. Jack Ramsay

10 – Euro step my … foot! Calling Manu Ginobili for traveling is like a holding call on an offensive lineman in football. You could blow that whistle on just about every snap if you wanted to. But you don’t, because it’s Manu!!!!!!

9 – Welcome to Role Player Tuesday, when guys like Shane Battier, Marco Belinelli and Aron Baynes — yes Aron Baynes — move into the spotlight after not being heard from in the first round. #baynesanymeansnecessary …

8 – The Conference Semifinals would like to apologize to the basketball world for not being nearly as intriguing and flat-out wacky, so far, as our wild and crazy cousin, the First Round!

7 – This is what they call Night School where I’m from. The Blazers are finding out the hard way … you don’t take any of the same mojo from one series to the next. Treat it like it’s brand new or you’ll get popped. Youngsters take notes for Game 2!

6 – Sure, it looks ugly now. Really ugly. Bubba Sparxxx Ugly! But I don’t think there is any need to overreact to the first half of the first game of a series, any series …

5 – Spurs are not messing around tonight. They’ve never made back-to-back trips to The Finals in the Duncan-Pop era. Would be an accomplishment this year, even for an outfit that has done just about everything else imaginable when it comes to winning …

4 – Reasons, the reasons that we hear, The reasons that we fear, Our feelings a-won’t disappear

3 – Game recognize game. And truly elite players know the MVP when they see him …

2 – Great point … even though I think the circumstances are dramatically different. But great point …

Because …

1 – These three words …


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs got in a flow early and never let up on the Trail Blazers

After break, Heat avoid rust and find rhythm in Game 1

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: Heat cruise to 107-86 rout of Nets in opener

MIAMI — Heat coach Erik Spoelstra entered the American Airlines Arena interview room 90 minutes before tipoff of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and plopped down at the table.

“All of our guys are available,” Spoelstra said, by way of a pre-empting any questions about injuries.

The floor was then opened for questions, and for 14 seconds the room was as silent as a wake. Finally, with no queries coming, Spoelstra gave a fist pump as he hopped up and walked out of the room.

Honestly, what was left to be said? The Heat had been doing nothing but talking and tuning into other games on TV for the last week since eliminating the Charlotte Bobcats in four games back on April 28. (The monitors flanking Spoelstra in the interview room still displayed the box score from the Heat’s last home game, Game 2 against the Bobcats played way back on April 23.)

Back in live action, the Heat were happy to let their play do the talking, as they put together a dominant performance, winning Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semis against the Brooklyn Nets going away, 107-86.

If they needed a cautionary tale, they didn’t have far to look: Just one season ago, the Heat also had an eight-day break between the first and second rounds. They took on a Bulls team coming off a draining seven-game series, then lost at home to Chicago, 93-86. If the Heat had had any rust from the layoff, they scraped it away well before tipoff and played Game 1 like they were on the second half of a back-to-back.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Chris Bosh, who finished with 15 points and 11 boards. “I was surprised that we did have good rhythm after such a long break. We did not have that last year. I kept saying all week that we felt that we were going to attack this situation better this time. And I think we did.”

“I think the most important thing was the rhythm that we were in,” said LeBron James, who led the Heat with 22 points. “It seemed like we didn’t take much time off at all as far as our rhythm. Ten turnovers, 22 assists, 52 points in the paint — that’s us playing basketball. We didn’t get to the free throw line a lot, but we got to the paint. After eight days off of not playing a game, I feared the rhythm, but now I don’t have to fear it anymore. After the way we played tonight, that’s a step in the direction we want to keep going in.”

“You could see the ball movement on most possessions — moving it two or three passes to find a better shot,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a little bit more to our rhythm and our momentum on how we like to play.”

The Heat talked about their performance like they were speaking of a percussion concert — rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. To make sure the Heat came out on fire, the Heat players credited the coaching staff for keeping them focused throughout the break by mostly pitting them against each other.

“The coaching staff made sure we … went at it in practice,” Rashard Lewis said with a smile. “We got a lot of conditioning in the first few practices, but the last couple of practices we started scrimmaging, we played up and down. And we’re a competitive bunch. We was going at it. Both teams wanted to win, we did a two-minutes drill a couple of times. As teammates, we went at each other and it was almost like a game atmosphere in the practice gym.”

The Heat played a complete game against Brooklyn. Not only did they make nine 3s, but they dominated the interior. In each of the first two quarters, the Heat attempted 10 shots in the paint, building a 26-10 lead in the stat by halftime. They finished with 52 points in the paint, which accounted for 26 field goals made, two less makes than the Nets attempted in the paint.

“We couldn’t protect the paint there to start the game,” said Nets coach Jason Kidd. “Well … during the whole game, we couldn’t keep them out of the paint. That’s something we have to look at and get better at.”

“Just mistakes,” explained Kevin Garnett, who finished with no points and four rebounds in just 16 minutes. “When we made mistakes, they made us pay for it. Back-cuts, coming to the basket, being very aggressive. We need to tear a page out of their book and be as aggressive next game.”

“I think it started on defense,” said Rashard Lewis. “We get stops and we get out, and we spread the court with our shooters, and it gives those lanes for LeBron and Dwyane [Wade] to drive. I thought early in the game we made sure that guys like LeBron and D-Wade were posting up, and we tried to take advantage of different matchups.

“It helps up get into a good rhythm on the offensive end,” Lewis continued. “Instead of just catching and launching 3s, we attacked their defense, make their defense collapse, and throw it out for open shots or for another drive.”

Not everything was rosy for the Heat. For a team that loves to play with pace, the Heat finished with just four fast-break points, as well as a season-low four steals. But they also finished with just 10 turnovers, three fewer than the Nets. And the Nets got worthy performances from Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, who each finished with 17 points. But they were the only Brooklyn starters to crack double-digits.

Sure, the Nets won four straight against the Heat in the regular season, but after one game in the postseason, the Heat go to sleep Tuesday night holding a one-game lead in their series.

And right now, that’s the only streak that matters.

Nets get past Raptors by thinnest of margins in Game 7

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets hang on against Raptors in Game 7

TORONTO – Basketball can be a game of inches too.

The difference in the first round series between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors was the length of Paul Pierce‘s fingers, which reached up and blocked Kyle Lowry‘s shot as time expired in Game 7, sending Brooklyn to the conference semifinals with a nail-biting 104-103 victory.

Lowry had somehow squeezed between Deron Williams, Alan Anderson and Kevin Garnett, losing the ball on one side of the triple-team and recovering it on the other. With all the defense’s attention on him, he had somehow willed his way to the basket one final time.

“That young man,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said, “did everything he could to get to the basket.”

But …

“Sometimes, it’s about being at the right place,” Pierce said afterward, “at the right time.”

The cumulative score in 11 total games (regular season and playoffs) between these two teams was 1,070-1,070. It really doesn’t get any closer than that. Eight of the 11 games were within three points in the final three minutes. And the team that got its first Game 7 win since the Nets came to the NBA in 1976 was the team that barely hung on.

The Nets’ offense had been rolling through the Raptors over the last 2 1/2 games. They led by 11 early in the fourth quarter and by nine with less that four minutes to go. But they couldn’t stop the Raptors’ offense, which scored 30 points in the final period.

“We were right there,” Casey said.

Lowry was attacking. DeMar DeRozan was making something out of nothing. Patrick Patterson was rolling to the basket. The Nets committed a couple of dumb fouls and just couldn’t get a stop … until they absolutely had to.

“We might have bent a little bit,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said, “but we didn’t break.”

It took every last inch for the veteran team with the big names and the largest payroll in NBA history to get past the young guns who had never been here before. The Nets knew how hard it was and how good the Raptors are. Toronto’s division title was no fluke.

“This was a very difficult series,” Garnett said. “It tested everybody’s will here. If anything, I think we grew up a bit during this series.”

That says a lot about the Raptors, who face some questions this summer. The contracts of their coach (Casey) and best player (Lowry) expire at the end of June. But if those two guys are back, Toronto will be back in the playoffs, with an incredible crowd on their side again.

“This is one of the best environments in basketball,” Pierce said of the Air Canada Centre, “as far as the road crowd, the noise, the enthusiasm. This is as tough as it’s going to get. And to come in here in this type of building, the way they play and the way the crowd is, it’s so gratifying.”

The Raptors had the crowd, but the Nets had the matchups. And that’s more important in a playoff series. The Raptors just had no answer for Joe Johnson, who scored 26 points in the deciding game, half of them in the fourth quarter, repeatedly going one-on-one with whomever the Raptors threw at him.

In the fourth, that list included point guards (Greivis Vasquez) and big men (Patterson). Brooklyn’s final field goal of the series was a ridiculously tough runner by Johnson (against Terrence Ross) that gave them a seven-point lead with just over two minutes to go. Johnson played more than 45 minutes (a season-high for a regulation game) on Sunday, and the Nets needed all of it.

“For us to post him every time down, get him the ball where he’s the focal point, for him to make plays,” Kidd said, “he’s as good as they come down the stretch.”

The Nets played through Johnson all series, something that will be more difficult to do against the Miami Heat, who are bigger on the wings, in the conference semifinals, which begin Tuesday in Miami.

After grinding through a series that went down to the final play of Game 7, Brooklyn has just 48 hours to prepare for the defending champs. The Nets went 4-0 against the Heat in the regular season, but know that doesn’t matter now.

“We know we can beat them,” Johnson said. “But it’s going to be a lot different from the regular season.”

The Nets can take something on these last seven games, where it took every basket and every stop to separate them from the Raptors by the thinnest of margins. But it’s already time to move on.

The champs are waiting.

Showdown Sunday for final four first-rounders

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The first round’s final four teams are doing whatever they can to avoid going fishing

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Four quarters.

That’s it!

Four quarters.

It all comes down to this.

Four quarters, or more if need be, for the final four teams still alive on the most epic weekend ever in the first round of the NBA playoffs. From the emotional roller coaster of Saturday’s wild, three-game ride to — the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, all three higher seeds — we finish with today’s two-part saga.

The Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors finish what they started in the Eastern Conference while the defending Western Conference champion and No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs defend the Alamo against those pesky No. 8-seeded Dallas Mavericks.

It goes without saying, no one wants to Go Fishing!

So the time for posturing is over. All that’s left is this double-header for all the marbles.

The final four must deliver on the promise of what we’ve already seen from this historic weekend of Game 7s. No pressure fellas, just epic finishes to epic series on an epic weekend …

NETS @RAPTORS, 1 p.m. ET (ABC) 

It has to be a comforting feeling for both of these teams knowing that a rested and focused Miami Heat team, the two-time defending champions, await the winner in the conference semifinals.

Either way, the Nets and Raptors couldn’t be better suited for one last battle.

As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, just one point (967-966) separates them in the 10 games they’ve played this season, with each of them winning five times. This is a much-needed rubber match that pits one of the most well-seasoned teams in the Nets against a Raptors crew that is swimming in the deep end of the playoff pool for the first time.

But there are more than just numbers at stake today at the Air Canada Centre. There are legacies on the line for the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who were brought to Brooklyn for moments like this, and for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, whose careers will continue to be built on defining moments like this one.

As a group those four stars have a combined 23 Game 7 starts under their belts … so at least one advantage, the experience edge, goes to the visitors from Brooklyn. Just don’t tell the Raptors, who have the sensational and dynamic DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry duo (they are averaging a combined 44.8 points in this series) on their side.

***

MAVERICKS @ SPURS, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

No one loves Game 7 like the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki.

No one.

His spotless 4-0 record in Game 7s — that’s right, spotless — no doubt makes him love this big stage even more. All he’s ever known in Game 7 is success, as Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com points out:

He knows nothing but the thrill of victory in the winner-takes-all series finales. Nowitzki is 4-0 in Game 7 action throughout his career, and his numbers in those games border on ridiculous.

You think joining a trio of Hall of Famers – Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit and Hakeem Olajuwon – in the exclusive career 25-point, 10-rebound club is impressive? Nowitzki has averaged 28 points and 14.8 rebounds in Game 7s, with all of that experience coming between 2003 and ’06.

How silly is it that the big German was stereotyped as a “soft Euro” until he led the Mavs on a 2011 championship march without a series going seven games?

Dirk registered a points-rebound double-double in each of his four swings at a Game 7. The only other active players with four such Game 7 double-doubles in their career are Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.

Nowitzki has three 30-10 Game 7 lines. He’s the only guy who can make that claim in the basketball-reference.com database, which dates to 1986. The only two-timers in that time span: LeBron James and Karl Malone.

Of course, Duncan is mentioned among those Game 7 greats. The Spurs superstar big man has been at this so long that you knew he’d have this on his resume, too.

You know Duncan remembers well that Game 7 loss to the Mavericks from May 2006 in the Western Conference semifinals, an overtime defeat that saw Duncan torch the Mavericks for 41 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks in a failed effort. The Spurs are 3-5 all-time in Game 7s, boasting a rich history of highs and lows in those games, 2-2 record under the watch of Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

A new chapter in this storied rivalry will be written later today.

It’s Showdown time for all involved in the final four of the best first round of the NBA playoffs we’ve ever seen!


VIDEO: The Game Time crew discusses the battle for Texas between the Spurs and Mavericks

 

Six factors that can separate the Nets and Raptors in Game 7

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets-Raptors: Game 7 Preview

TORONTO – How silly of us to think that one of these teams would win this series in six games. We should have realized that the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets have some sort of reciprocal gravity that keeps one team from ever pulling away from the other.

They’ve played 10 games this season. They’ve each won five, with a total combined score of Raptors 767, Nets 766. Eight of the 10 games have been within five points in the last five minutes.

So it’s only fitting that this first round series will come down to a Game 7 on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ABC).

For the Raptors, this is an opportunity. A win would give their young core 4-7 more games of playoff experience against the defending champion Miami Heat. It would give head coach Dwane Casey additional job security. And it would help establish the franchise’s place on the NBA map.

For the Nets, this is another referendum. If they can’t get past the first round, what exactly did they spend $104 million in salary and another $92 million in luxury taxes on? And where the heck do they go from here?

“They have more to lose than us,” DeMar DeRozan said Saturday.

Indeed. But payroll won’t determine which team gets their first Game 7 victory (since the Nets came to the NBA). These six factors will.

The nail

Though the Nets lost Game 5, they established some things offensively. One of those was Joe Johnson operating from the middle of the floor, a set that made it difficult for the Raptors to double-team him. The Nets didn’t go to that set much in Game 6, instead using Johnson back in the low post and in pick-and-rolls with Deron Williams more often.

But the Nets did take the middle of the floor away from Kyle Lowry, who scored just three points in the paint or at the free throw line in Game 6 after scoring 14 in Game 5. They took away the Raptors’ primary offensive actions and often had them trying to improvise with less than 10 seconds left on the shot clock.

DeMar DeRozan will make some tough shots, but if it’s only tough shots that he’s getting, Brooklyn is in good shape.

Minutes distribution

The Raptors have been at their best when reserves Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson are on the floor. They may sacrifice some defense by playing big minutes with Lowry, Vasquez, DeRozan and Patterson on the floor together, but their regular small forwards have come up empty offensively all series.

Terrence Ross is gaining experience and John Salmons is a bigger body to put on Johnson. But Raptors coach Dwane Casey shouldn’t hesitate to go to the three-guard lineup early and often, because the positives on offense will outweigh the negatives on D.

Lowry, Vasquez, DeRozan and Patterson are a plus-23 in 54 minutes together, but played just 12 minutes over the last two games.

The 3-point line

Neither team has shot well from 3-point range in the series, but both teams have attempted 22 threes per game. If one team – or just one player – gets hot, it could be the difference. With the attention that Johnson draws, Brooklyn is more likely to get open looks. That’s why Alan Anderson has replaced Shaun Livingston in the starting lineup.

Patterson, of course, puts a fourth shooter on the floor for Toronto. He can punish the Nets’ defense for its focus on Lowry and DeRozan.

Toronto on the roll

One of the bellwethers of this series has been Amir Johnson, who has averaged 14.7 points in the Raptors’ three wins and 4.3 points in their three losses. A lot of Johnson’s production has come as the roll man, catching passes from Lowry and Vasquez. The Nets’ weak-side defender needs to meet the roll man – whether it’s Johnson or Jonas Valanciunas – before he gets too close to the basket.

Transition

Both teams have averaged less than 10 fast break points per game, but have been at their best when they’ve been able to get out into the open floor. Williams pushed the pace from the start in Game 6, which allowed the Nets to get into their offensive actions early in the shot clock and before the Raptors could get set. That produced easier shots.

When the Raptors made a little bit of a run in the fourth quarter, they were getting some easy baskets in transition as well.

Turnovers

After averaging 19.3 turnovers in the first three games, the Raptors have averaged just 13.0 in the last three. But it was an issue that popped up again in the fourth quarter on Friday, keeping them from being able to cut the Brooklyn lead to single digits. Any extended turnover issues in Game 7 (for either team) could end their season.

Nets use momentum to force Game 7

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets use balanced offense and feisty defense to drop Raptors in Game 6 

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.

Nets and Raptors looking to control the nail

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…

20140502_johnson_nail

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…

20140502_johnson_post_dbl

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

20140502_johnson_pindown

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

20140502_derozan_iso

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

20140502_derozan_pnr

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).

20140502_ajohnson_roll

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.