The Brooklyn Nets continue to swing from awful performances to impressive wins, this time providing the latter against the Toronto Raptors in a game with a lot of playoff and divisional standings implications.
Worried about losing the season series to the young and surprising (no longer, actually) Raptors, the Nets got the most out of a slightly injured Paul Pierce, who admitted he might not have been playing if it was another game, another opponent. The Nets are about bringing the effort when necessary and conserving it the rest of the way.
In a 101-97 win, Pierce scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, including a huge three and a steal off of Terrence Ross when the Nets were only leading by 1 down the stretch. He was in foul trouble most of the way, but played all 12 minutes of the final quarter, and getting over his six turnovers with four steals and simply a great all around game on both ends.
The Nets were led by their two point guards as they continue to play ultra small-ball. Both Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston scored 18 points, while Joe Johnson with 14 and Alan Anderson scoring 11 added to an impressive offensive day, which included making 55% of their 3-point attempts.
Despite starting small, the Nets were at their best when Andrey Blatche was on the floor. The center added 9 points and 4 rebounds, but he was excellent, mostly when he was facing a very weak Jonas Valanciunas.
The Raptors, who might play the same Nets four to seven times in the first round of the playoffs, got another big game from Kyle Lowry, almost pulling off the back to back triple double. He had 21 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists, getting help from Terrence Ross, DeMar Derozan, Amir Johnson and Hansbrough, all scoring in double figures.
But the Raptors did an awful job of converting open shots, finishing with only 6-of-23 from beyond the arc. It came down to making big plays in the end, and it seems that the Nets might not have the youth or athelticism, but they have players like Pierce, Johnson and Williams who simply know what to do with the game on the line.
And that’s the slogan for the Nets as they get closer to the playoffs, growing in confidence with every win. They put the losses aside because it seems like this group has a feeling brewing inside of being good enough to win against anyone when they’re focused. The losses? It’s not because they’re not as good as others; it’s because they needed rest, and gave up early in the game.
But is this mindset and ability enough for the playoffs? When you play once every two days more or less, and actually “throwing” games isn’t an option? The Nets are still withotu Kevin Garnett which forces them to get creative. For now, it seems to be enough to keep the pressure on the Raptors or even the Bulls from behind going. However, once the regular season ends, it’s going to be very interesting to see if one of the more inconsistent teams in the league can actually make that switch just because game got a whole lot more important.