Posts Tagged ‘Shaun Livingston’

Nets move quick, hire proven Hollins


VIDEO: GameTime: Bucks-Nets Coaching Situation

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It didn’t take long for the Brooklyn Nets to find a replacement for Jason Kidd. It’s as if they’ve done this coaching search thing before.

The Nets announced Wednesday afternoon that they have reached an agreement with Lionel Hollins, who will be their fourth coach in the last two years. Avery Johnson was fired, P.J. Carlesimo was never considered to be more than an interim replacement, and Kidd thought that, after half of a season of success, he was ready for bigger things.

Hollins arrives after year off from coaching, which followed a 4 1/2-year stint in Memphis, in which the Grizzlies improved every year.

Grizzlies pace and efficiency, Lionel Hollins’ four full seasons

Season W L Win% Pace Rk OffRtg Rk DefRtg Rk NetRtg Rk
2009-10 40 42 0.488 96.1 8 104.8 17 107.6 24 -2.9 20
2010-11 46 36 0.561 94.5 15 104.4 16 102.5 8 +1.9 10
2011-12 41 25 0.621 93.4 18 101.0 21 98.9 7 +2.1 12
2012-13 56 26 0.683 91.1 29 101.7 18 97.4 2 +4.2 8

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Hollins’ teams have never been better than average offensively, despite having Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol for most of those four full seasons. The Grizzlies were one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, but they didn’t shoot well. And shooting is much more important than rebounding.

In Hollins’ last season in Memphis, no team made or attempted fewer 3-pointers. When you’re playing Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Randolph at the 2, 3 and 4 spots, you’re not going to space the floor very well.

Last season, Brooklyn ranked 10th or 11th in 3-point makes, 3-point attempts, and 3-point percentage. And that was with a starting guard — Shaun Livingston — who shot 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Livingston is gone and his departure will hurt the Nets’ defense. Paul Pierce, meanwhile, is a free agent. And we don’t know for sure that Kevin Garnett will return for the last year on his contract. Those three and Kidd were Brooklyn’s biggest acquisitions last summer.

So the Nets could be hitting the reset button, going back to their core from their first season in Brooklyn, with Hollins on the bench. Even without Pierce or Garnett, they’d be above the luxury tax line, with only the tax payer’s mid-level exception to use on free agents. That could go to Croatian small forward Bojan Bogdanovic.

No matter what Pierce and Garnett do, Hollins’ success in Brooklyn will depend on the health of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, their two former All-Stars who could still be in their prime, with emphasis on the word “could.”

Williams had surgery on both ankles in May. Lopez had a third surgery on his right foot in January. They will be the team’s biggest questions come October.

The good news is that Hollins can’t get off to a worse start than Kidd, who saw his team go 10-21 in the first two months of last season. If Williams and Lopez are healthy, Hollins will have three guys — Joe Johnson being the third — who can consistently draw double-teams offensively. Their guards and forwards will be able to spread the floor much better than Hollins’ Grizzlies did.

Though offense was the issue in Memphis, defense will be a bigger question in Brooklyn, where Hollins won’t have Allen or Gasol.

This is still one of the more talented teams in the league though. And it’s playing in the weaker conference. Hollins has an opportunity to keep it near the top.

Aldridge: Livingston’s new deal a ‘long time coming’


VIDEO: Rachel Nichols talks with Shaun Livingston about his long NBA path

Seven years after suffering one of the most gruesome knee injuries in the history of the NBA, Shaun Livingston is almost — almost — all the way back.

Livingston, who resurrected his career with the Brooklyn Nets last season, agreed to a three-year, $16 million deal with the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday that can’t be officially signed until after the league moratorium ends July 10. In Golden State, he’ll back up both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for new Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

After tearing just about everything in his left knee and dislocating his kneecap while playing for the Clippers in 2007, Livingston spent the next six years rehabbing, playing for six teams as his game slowly came back to life. Last season in Brooklyn, he was supposed to play a limited role for the Nets. But he wound up playing 26 minutes a night, and starting 54 games. And he started to get back some of the explosiveness he’d lost all those years ago, combining it with the cerebral part of the game he always possessed.

“Long time coming,” Livingston said Tuesday night by phone.

He was immediately drawn to Golden State. He grew up down the way from Andre Iguodala in Springfield, Ill., and played with Warriors center Andrew Bogut when both were in Milwaukee. He also knew he’d be joining a Warriors team that made the playoffs two years straight under former coach Mark Jackson.

“It feels good to be kind of a priority on a winning team,” he said. “It was the same feeling last year with Brooklyn. I was excited about the opportunity. … Out here, I can kind of be rewarded for my play last year, which is rewarding [in itself].

“It’s a great feeling. And I really wanted to be competitive. Being in the playoffs last year, being in a competitive situation, that’s what I’m all about. But this is my road, and my struggle. With all my issues, to have this now, it’s great.”

Livingston said the bizarre departure of Jason Kidd, a strong backer of his, as coach of the Nets over the weekend was not a major factor in his decision to go to Golden State. A bigger issue was the contractual limitation Brooklyn had because of its enormous team salary last season. The only way the Nets could re-sign Livingston was to use the taxpayer mid-level exception, which starts at just more than $3 million for next season.

By contrast, Golden State had the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, starting at $5.3 million next season, to use for Livingston.

“I don’t know if [Kidd’s departure] would have played a factor, because I don’t know that the contract situation would have worked out,” Livingston said. “But Jason’s situation didn’t help matters.”

Report: Livingston, Warriors agree on deal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Veteran point guard Shaun Livingston has reached an agreement to join the Golden State Warriors, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Livingston’s deal, for three years and a reported $16 million (with the third year partially guaranteed, per USA Today Sports), gives the Warriors a new dimension and some security in the backcourt

Livingston’s addition will allow All-Star point guard Steph Curry to play off the ball and alleviate some of the ball-handling and facilitating duties he shouldered last season. The Warriors will be adjusting to new coach Steve Kerr‘s system anyway, but the addition of a season veteran like Livingston gives them all sorts of possibilities in the backcourt.

Nets’ long list of questions starts with Pierce and Garnett … and Lopez … and …

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Best of Inside: Blazers and Nets go fishing

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The most expensive roster in NBA history faces questions this summer. And it doesn’t have the flexibility to find all the answers.

The Brooklyn Nets have hit the offseason with a five-game conference semifinals defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat. Their $102 million dollar payroll and $90 million luxury tax bill got them just five playoff victories.

In a press release on Thursday, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov called it a “crazy season.” Every team has its ups and downs, but Brooklyn’s were rather unique.

On Jan. 1, the Nets were 10-21 and had lost their best player, Brook Lopez, for the season. Then they went 34-17 over the final three and a half months, thriving with a smaller and more skilled lineup. They beat the Heat four times over the course of the season, had fourth-quarter leads in three of the five playoff games, and were within two points in a fourth. With Joe Johnson carrying the load, their offense became pretty potent in the postseason.

If the Nets were a young team, they’d have something strong to build on. But only three players from their 11-man rotation will be under the age of 29 when next season begins, and one of those could choose to sign elsewhere this summer. Andray Blatche said Thursday that he will decline his $1.4 million player option for next season.

The Nets’ most important free agent is Paul Pierce, who will turn 37 in October. He wants to keep playing, but gave no indication of where he might want to be next fall.

“When I get a chance to sit back, really put my thinking hat on, I’ll figure out what’s next,” Pierce said after Game 5 on Wednesday. “I think I still have something in the tank I can give a team. So maybe one or two [years] at the most, and see where I’m at.”

Kevin Garnett has some thinking to do as well. As part of the trade that brought him from Boston, the Nets guaranteed Garnett the $12 million on his contract next season. But he averaged just 20 minutes per game, was an offensive liability, and missed all of March with back issues.

Garnett turns 38 years old on Monday, ranks fifth all-time in minutes played, and just finished his 19th season. That’s exactly how many seasons Nets coach Jason Kidd had played when he decided to retire and walk away from $6 million a year ago.

Garnett would be giving up twice that amount and can still make an impact on defense. But he’s a prideful dude and may not want to see his skills diminish any further.

“He’s done it for a long time at a very high level,” Kidd said Thursday. “The biggest thing and concerns that I’ve talked to him about is you don’t want to leave with someone carrying you off the court.”

Garnett didn’t speak to the media after Game 5 or at the Nets’ practice facility on Thursday. Nets GM Billy King said that he spoke with Garnett on the plane ride home from Miami.

“Get away, spend some time and talk with your family then we’ll talk again,” King told Garnett. “There’s no need for an answer now.”

The Nets could lose three starters this summer, because Shaun Livingston is also a free agent. After a breakout season, he’ll be coveted by several teams, and the Nets can only pay him with the tax payer’s mid-level exception (a three-year contract starting at $3.3 million per year).

The Nets could have Lopez back at full strength, and they could not. He’s had three surgeries on his right foot in the last three years and an additional repair on his left ankle in March. His team, meanwhile, changed their style and played their best without him.

But Kidd and King have little choice but to bank on Johnson, Lopez and Deron Williams, who are owed a total of $121 million over the next two seasons.

King has little flexibility in improving the roster beyond his high-priced stars. He doesn’t have any draft picks (to use or to trade) and nothing beyond that tax-payer’s mid-level exception to offer free agents (including Croatian guard Bojan Bogdanovic, whose draft rights they own), though Pierce can be brought back (and handsomely compensated) via Bird rights.

What King has to hope for is a better and healthier Williams (who may undergo surgery on one or both ankles this summer), a healthy Lopez, and a Johnson that plays more consistently like he played in the postseason. The chances of all three of those situations going their way seem slim.

Maybe the most solid thing the Nets can build on is Kidd’s development as a coach. He’s got a great feel for the game and, after those early-season struggles, found an identity for his team. He managed a deep rotation about as well as you could this season. And with the respect of players around the league, the Nets will find free agents who want to play for him. If Livingston stays, loyalty to Kidd may be the biggest reason.

It’s not like the Eastern Conference is passing the Nets by. If they bring most of their veterans back and avoid the slow start in their second year together, they can be right back among the best teams in the conference. Every other East playoff team has its own questions to answer this summer.

“Our goal is to try to bring as much as the core back,” King said, “add to the core and go at it again.”

Heat finish strong to finish off Nets

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Heat rally late to finish off Nets, advance to East finals

MIAMI – The Miami Heat may not be as good as they were in previous seasons. But they sure know when they need to be at their best.

With another fourth-quarter comeback, the Heat finished their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Brooklyn Nets with a 96-94 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday. Dwyane Wade (28 points on 10-for-18 shooting) played his best game of the postseason, keeping his team in the game through the first three quarters, and his teammates finished the job in the final 12 minutes.

Over the course of the series, the Nets outscored the Heat by five points through the third period. But in the five fourth periods, Miami was a plus-32. That was the difference in the series and that is the difference between a good team and a championship team.

Basketball is a funny game. Ray Allen was 0-for-6 from 3-point range through the first 47 minutes on Wednesday. But when the Nets’ defense broke down with the game on the line in the final minute, Allen drained a 3 from the left corner – off another hockey assist from LeBron James – to give the Heat their first lead of the second half. Two stops later, they were heading to the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth straight year.

As a team, the Heat were 1-for-16 from beyond the arc in the first half and 3-for-19 at the end of the third quarter. In the fourth, they were 6-for-10. James and Chris Bosh each hit two, while Allen and Rashard Lewis hit one apiece.

Brooklyn had cut off the paint all night, successfully keeping James from doing what he had done two nights earlier. The Nets had shown some resilience, recovered from that deflating loss, played another strong game in the face of elimination, and led by eight points with less than three minutes to go. Joe Johnson was on fire once again, and it looked like he was taking this series back to Brooklyn for Game 6.

“He was torching me,” James said. “It got to a point where if I did not get stops on Joe Johnson, we are going to lose the game.”

But James locked down Johnson over the last four minutes, the Nets’ shots stopped falling, and the Heat’s did not. Ultimately, their shots were better shots.

“We just didn’t execute down the stretch,” Johnson said, “offensively or defensively.”

The Heat did execute, just like they’ve been doing for the last three years. Fourth quarters were a struggle in their first season together. They scored less than a point per fourth-quarter possession in the 2011 playoffs.

To say that they’ve figured things out since would be an understatement. They’ve been ridiculously efficient offensively in postseason fourth quarters over the last three years. In this series they scored 133 points on just 99 fourth-quarter possessions.

The Nets were right there with the champs in four of the five games. But they just couldn’t get the necessary stops down the stretch.

“The last two are really hard to take right now,” Deron Williams said, “because we could easily be up 3-2.”

While the Nets enter a summer with some big questions, the Heat are still playing with all the answers.

In their fourth season together, the Heat know exactly who they are. They have the best player in the league, who draws the attention of the entire defense. He doesn’t force anything and he trusts his teammates. As a group, they take what the defense gives them.

More importantly, the Heat don’t panic. And when you have talent, teamwork and resolve, you win big games.

“Overwhelmingly, the No. 1 key in this series was great mental stability,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have to have throughout the course of each game, each possession. That’s what it was down the stretch. You can’t get caught up in frustrations, you can’t get caught up in trying to get a 10-point play. It just takes incredible focus, to concentrate one possession at a time.”

Whether this version of the Heat has a championship defense or a championship supporting cast remains to be seen. We may not know for another five weeks.

At this point, we do know that they can make plays when they have to.

With season on the brink, Nets face must-win Game 5 in Miami

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.”

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.

Raptors take out Johnson, even series

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down how the Raptors blanketed Joe Johnson

NEW YORK – Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey would not commit to whether his team’s Game 4 win was about great defense or bad offense.

“They missed a lot of easy shots,” Casey said of the Brooklyn Nets. “I thought our team defense was really solid,” he said later.

A little from column A, a little from column B, and the Nets scored just 79 points on 87 possessions, the least efficient performance of either team through four games. The result was an eight-point victory for the Raptors that tied the first round series at two games apiece.

After coming back from 17 points down, Brooklyn had a one-point lead with 4:58 left in the fourth quarter. But they went scoreless on their final eight possessions of the game. The Raptors didn’t have much going on offensively themselves, but got just enough (a Greivis Vasquez 3 here, a Kyle Lowry running hook there) to complement their improved defense.

The Nets were able to get the ball to Joe Johnson, who had been abusing the Toronto defense through the first three games. But the Raptors were aggressive with their double-teams and quick with their rotations. Johnson couldn’t get to his spots in the paint and his teammates couldn’t take advantage of four-on-three situations. Down the stretch, the Nets missed two jumpers, committed four straight turnovers, and then sealed their fate with a 29-second possession that ended in a blown layup by Shaun Livingston.

“The last four minutes is normally when we feel very comfortable,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “We just got out of character … We were trying to do it individually instead of making a play for our teammate.”

Johnson, who had averaged 23.7 points on 26-for-43 (60 percent) shooting through the first three games, got just seven shots off in Game 4. He made just two. The Raptors went with a variety of post coverages and it worked.

“Sometimes we were going [with on the dribble,” Casey said. “Sometimes we were going on the pass. Sometimes we were going straight up. I thought mixing it up kept them off balance a little bit. Hopefully, it did. I don’t know.”

“We were much more physical,” Lowry added. “We were much more aggressive on the ball and we tried to make them get the ball to other players.”

The Nets have other players. Pretty good ones, too. They don’t need a big game from Johnson.

But his only teammate who looked comfortable offensively on Sunday was Paul Pierce, who scored 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Others were afraid to shoot or just shaky with their jumpers. It was like the veteran team shrunk in the big moment.

“I thought [Johnson] made all the right plays,” Kidd said, “but we couldn’t knock down a shot for him.”

The jumpers haven’t been there all series, really. After a 4-for-20 performance in Game 4, the Nets are a brutal 22-for-88 (25 percent) from 3-point range in the series.

Despite that, the Nets had been pretty efficient through the first three games. But when the Raptors took away Johnson, everything fell apart. Toronto was a top-10 defensive team in the regular season and looked like it for the first time in the playoffs. Well, sort of…

“I’m not fooled by anything,” Casey said. “I thought our defense was solid. But as far as just stopping them and taking them totally out of what they want to do … they got some good looks. We made a lot of mistakes in our schemes. So we’re going to have to go back and make some adjustments on our own to clean up some stuff, because some of the shots they missed … we don’t want to leave that to chance.”

Still, the Raptors took a step forward on Sunday. They showed resilience in the face of a more experienced team, a hostile crowd, a handful of injuries, and foul trouble.

“Matching their physicality was a huge key for us,” Greivis Vasquez said. “We got the win by playing their way, which is physical. And we were not afraid. We gained a lot of experience and a lot of confidence tonight.”

They also regained home-court advantage, with Game 5 back in Toronto on Wednesday.

Nets’ Johnson continues to punish Raptors

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets vs. Raptors: Game 3

NEW YORK – It seems that you can’t consider Joe Johnson without considering his contract. He’s overpaid, yes.

But when you look through that lens, you can lose sight of how valuable Johnson is on the floor and how much of a problem he’s been for the Toronto Raptors in their first round series with the Brooklyn Nets.

We’re three games in and Toronto has yet to find an answer for Johnson, who led Brooklyn to a 102-98 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead on Friday with 29 points on 17 shots. He scored 21 in the second half as the Nets took control of the game and then held on down the stretch.

“I was just being patient,” Johnson said. “Throughout the first half, I saw them coming at me with the double-team, so I was just trying to make the right play for my teammates, and we were rolling early. In the second half, it opened up and I got a couple of easy looks.”

Johnson’s numbers sure make it look like it’s been coming easy. Through three games, he’s averaged 23.7 points on 26-for-43 (60 percent) shooting.

Since January, the Nets have found success playing small. But their small is big, starting with Johnson’s 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame that, combined with the skills of a lead guard, is near impossible to stop one-on-one.

Johnson is neither quick nor explosive. He rarely reaches third gear. And when he gets the ball, you know what’s coming. But whether he’s gotten it on the perimeter or in the post, he’s been punishing the Raptors inside. Seventeen of his 26 field goals have come in the paint.

“He’s a big body,” DeMar DeRozan said after having to work harder for his 30 points on Friday. “It’s tough once he gets you down there and gets his hip on you. He’s a very crafty little baller. His floater … you really can’t do much to it.”

Post-ups have been the go-to play call for the Nets, but even in isolation, Johnson hasn’t settled. And he’s consistently been able to use a crossover or two to get his defender on his hip and get to his floater, which has been money all series. He has shot 13-for-20 in the area of the paint outside the charge circle in the series.

Toronto simply doesn’t have anybody who can guard Johnson. Their starting wings – DeRozan and Terrence Ross – are too skinny. Raptors coach Dwane Casey has called on reserve Landry Fields in this series solely to guard Johnson, and the first time Fields defended Johnson in the post on Friday, the Raptors still sent a double-team.

After Game 3, both Casey and DeRozan said that they have to be quicker with those double-teams.

“We’ve got to do a better job of making sure we’re getting help their quicker,” Casey said. “When we do get it there, we’re in pretty good shape in those situations.”

But no matter the defense, the Nets have been rather efficient in this series, improved offensively each game. And double teams on Johnson could help some of his teammates get better looks at the basket.

“We just have to continue to play through our bread and butter and know that Joe gets his great shots,” Shaun Livingston said. “It makes the game easier for us too. It conserves energy for everybody, so we can be fresh and kind of get our game going from all angles.”

Deron Williams, who had 22 points in Game 3, has been benefiting from the attention on Johnson, but has also turned up his own aggressiveness in the postseason, taking his matchup with Kyle Lowry personally. Much of Brooklyn’s offense has been actions involving both Williams and Johnson, and they’ve played off each other well.

“We had to learn to play with each other,” Williams said of his on-court relationship with Johnson. “We’ve had to learn to share the ball and also learn where each other’s going to be. I think we understand that right now. When Joe’s playing in the post, I know where the double-team’s coming from and where I need to be. And he knows where to find me.”

The Raptors lean heavily on Lowry and DeRozan. The Nets are more balanced, but if Williams and Johnson can match the production of Toronto’s backcourt, they’re in good shape.

If Toronto can’t find an answer for Johnson, they’re not.