With every game and win, it gets more convincing – the Brooklyn Nets are for real, and their third win this season over the Miami Heat makes them a real threat to the previous two-horse race concept in the Eastern conference, finding the right kind of formula, led by Paul Pierce who keeps on shining when he sees LeBron James in front of him, and getting plenty of help from Shaun Livingston and Mirza Teletovic.
The Nets are now 3-0 against the Heat this season, coming away with a 96-95 win thanks to Livingston making it impossible to get the ball to LeBron James on the final play. Chris Bosh was throwing the inbound pass. He had an open Ray Allen on the corner, but prefered trying to hit James with the pass in the paint. Livingston wasn’t all over him, but his long arms were enough to get in the way and generate the steal, ending the game. The Heat lose four out of five, raising all kinds of doubts and theories about their most recent weakness, while the Nets prove once more how big of a threat they can be.
Defense was the name of the game for Brooklyn, making life very difficult for LeBron James, while the Heat’s bench scored only 13 points. Mirza Teletovic, on his own, outscored that unit with 17 points, adding three blocks in the game to his impressive outside shooting (3-of-5). The player who was really hot from long range was Paul Pierce, finishing with 29 points, including 17 in the third quarter, the same quarter that earlier in the season seemed to be the centerpiece of every Nets collapse.
Pierce hit 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, and as Erik Spoelstra mentioned after the game (and Pierce referred to the subject last week), there’s something about him this season when it comes to big games. The Nets acknowledge they can’t put in the same kind of effort every night, but they seem to go all out when it’s time to prove something about how good they really are.
Shaun Livingston makes for a real game changer and maybe for the first time in his career is used in the right way – a guard who doesn’t need to hold the ball in his hands for too long, and is becoming more and more of an annoying defensive presence for opponents, scoring 13 points to go with his 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. The Nets looked better with their second unit on the floor, as the Heat’s replacement did an awful job of helping out. We saw a good game from Andrey Blatche, not for the first time, scoring 11 points.
Championship team? It’s is now or never for the Nets, more than for any other team in the league. Kevin Garnett is still out for whatever reason, but the ultra small ball is working very well. Both Pierce and Livingston can play bigger than they actually are, Miles Plumlee is relentless and the bench seems to be one of the better sub-units in the league right now.
The East still looks like it belongs to the Heat or the Pacers, but there are cracks of doubt into that theory, with the way the Nets play when they seem to be completely focused and fresh probably being the main reason for those cracks forming.